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Access to Red Lake Ont. restricted as nearby forest fire continues to rage

Friday, August 14th 2020, 1:00 pm - Provincial police have begun staffing checkpoints in the community as of 8 a.m. CT.

People from Red Lake Ont., no longer have access to the town, as of 8 a.m local time Friday, due to an implementation order issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) because of a nearby forest fire.

The order was issued due to "extreme" forest fire activity in the area, as the Red Lake 49 fire continued to burn three kilometres from the town. All non-essential personnel are restricted from travel, use, and access to Red Lake neighbourhoods and roadways.

"With this implementation order we are allowing nobody other than essential service workers into the community, and we believe we've evacuated approximately 4,000 people, with two to three hundred residents still remaining," said Fred Mota, mayor of Red Lake, in an interview with CBC.

Mota said efforts have been made urging the remaining residents to leave, and he calls the order a "proactive course of action."

cbc: red lake fire. Courtesy: Sol Mamakwa/submitted Red Lake Ont., located about 550 kilometres from Thunder Bay, continues to be threatened by a large forest fire burning near the town. About 3,800 residents have left the municipality as of Wednesday. (Submitted by Sol Mamakwa via CBC)

"We had municipal staff knocking on doors, assistance from community partners, and unfortunately some of these people just refuse to leave," said Mota.

Blockades will be set up by Ontario Provincial Police outside the community, and officers are staffing checkpoints until the MNRF revokes the order.


Despite challenging weather conditions, officials with the MNRF called Thursday a "productive day" in the battle against the blaze.

In a statement, the ministry said crews, heavy equipment and deployed aircraft are "making great progress" on the fire; however, the size of the fire is unchanged from Wednesday and remains at 552 hectares.

"We had two storms come through yesterday (Thursday) ... it brought us 10 [millimetres] of rain, which we are fortunate for, but what came with that is lots of lightning," said Mota. "The MNRF... they'll be watching out for hotspots due to lightning strikes."

As of Friday, crews have been preparing for severe thunderstorms approaching toward the evening, with the possibility of hail and wind gusts up to 100 km/h, according to Mota.

"The west winds are not great, because that blows it back toward the town site, but due to the rain that we had, I think that's very helpful to fight this fire," he said.

Water bomber Two CL-415 water bombers, like the one pictured, remain on standby at the Red Lake airport. The aircraft are being used by crews who have been fighting the 552-hectare fire since Monday. Around 800 loads, or five million litres of water, have been dropped on the fire to date. (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry)

Mota said the MNRF was thinking of residents when they restricted access to the town.

Evacuees have been provided shelter in Thunder Bay, Kenora, Fort Frances and Dryden.

Roger Nesbitt, chief administrative officer of Dryden, said the city is hosting more than 600 evacuees. Around 50 cots were set up at the Dryden Memorial Arena on Monday, when residents began to leave Red Lake.

"Our hotels in Dryden are at capacity. Many of the evacuees found lodging with family and friends in the area as well. The tourist camps or fishing camps throughout the area have opened up their doors to evacuees," said Nesbitt.

Nesbitt said the city plans to continue reception and temporary shelter services throughout the weekend. It remained unknown as of Thursday morning when residents might be able to return to Red Lake.


Forest fire crews are also battling a fire approximately 53 kilometres southwest of Eabametoong First Nation.


The fire has caused poor air quality in the First Nation, forcing officials to send its most vulnerable people to Thunder Bay.


Thunder Bay is currently hosting just over 300 fire evacuees, a city official confirmed on Thursday. The majority, about 250 people, are from Eabametoong and arrived in the city on Wednesday.


The fire, referred to as Nipigon 45, is not a direct threat to Eabametoong's buildings or infrastructure. Since Thursday, the fire has grown from 3,603 hectares to 5,475 hectares.

According to the MNRF, the forest fire hazard across the region is "high to extreme," with 29 active fires in the northwest region. Eleven of those fires are not under control, according to the ministry.

Thumbnail courtesy of Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

This article was oringinally published for CBC News.

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