Forest fire west of Ottawa now contained, officials say

Crews are making 'excellent progress' Tuesday, province says

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A forest fire that broke out Sunday on the shores of Centennial Lake in eastern Ontario — forcing the evacuation of households in the Township of Greater Madawaska — is being contained, officials say.

Crews are making "excellent progress" on Tuesday, according to a fire adviser for Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

"Crews are holding the fire within the burnt area," said the township early Tuesday afternoon. "Fire suppression efforts are focused on hot spots and preventative measures."

The most recent update from the township and Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources was the fire was about 45 to 50 hectares in size.

The ministry told CBC Monday it's not aware of any structures lost so far because of the fire. It hasn't shared a cause.

Larry Sachan said he remembers smelling smoke at his Black Mountain Road home on the shores of Centennial Lake in Greater Madawaska, Ont., around lunchtime Sunday.

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He quickly realized the smoke wasn't from a campfire — even indoors, Sachan said his eyes were burning and his throat felt sore. That's when he and his wife went outside to look and became frightened.

"Above the tree line, you could see the billowing smoke … really thick," he said. "It was really quite horrific how quick it was spreading."

They quickly got some things together — "nothing substantial ... beef jerky, anything for quick energy" — before leaving their home about 50 kilometres west of Calabogie and 170 kilometres west of downtown Ottawa.

Little did the couple realize then that they would spend the night sleeping in their SUV while waiting for authorities to allow them to return home.

RELATED: Half of Canadians will experience unhealthy air quality due to smoke plumes

The local fire department would evacuate 35 to 50 homes like theirs as a precautionary measure.

That precautionary evacuation order has been extended until 12:30 p.m. Wednesday for Black Mountain Estates, Little Bay Lane, Snider's Tent and Trailer Park and Aird's Lake Road past that park.

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The township also said Tuesday it doesn't expect to issue any further evacuation orders.

WATCH: Half of Canadians facing unhealthy air quality this week

'We could lose everything'

According to the township, the fire broke out Sunday afternoon on Centennial Lake's south shore.

One cottager told CBC he watched from across the lake as the fire jumped from a small island to the mainland.

Sachan's neighbour Nancy McCauley was about 160 kilometres south away in Trenton when she heard about the fire and rushed back to find firefighters at her home.

"There was quite a bit of smoke in our area at that time," she recalled

Still, McCauley said the crews allowed her to quickly go into her home and gather a few things.

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"It was very nerve-racking … trying to decide 'OK, what do we take with us?" she said.

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Nancy McCauley says she was allowed to grab a few items before needing to evacuate her home near Centennial Lake. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

McCauley said she and her husband grabbed some of their valuables, clothing, old photos and food for their dog in what she described as "a mad dash."

The couple then made their way to their nephew's trailer at a nearby campsite and have been staying there since.

"It's difficult to understand what's going to happen over the next day or so," said McCauley.

"It's frightening because you don't know if you're going to have a house if the fire does move quicker or if the wind picks up," she added. "We could lose everything."

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Sachan, McCauley and other displaced residents banded together at the Matawatchan Community Memorial Centre on Monday, where they were welcomed by volunteers offering their homes as a place to stay and a seemingly unlimited supply of coffee.

Centennial Lake fire

CBC - Centennial Lake Fire - June5

Andrew Foote/CBC

Smoke affecting air quality

Derek Roche, a board member of the Matawatchan Memorial Community Centre, estimates most of the evacuees were either "campers or cottagers" and many went back to their primary residences.

But for locals, this has been "totally unprecedented."

"To have an emergency like this and possibly even larger, we just weren't prepared for it," he said.

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John Reid, who lives on Little Bay Lane off Centennial Lake, said he's hopeful the efforts will pay off but he's worried he might lose his home. All he could take with him were his passport and wallet.

"We've been up here for 13, 14 years now," he said. "I'm too old to start again."

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John Reid lives in the Greater Madawaska region and was one of several people who had to evacuate their homes because of a forest fire in the area. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

The province has a fire ban in place for Renfrew County. It and all surrounding counties except for Ottawa have an extreme fire risk, the highest level on Ontario's four-level scale.

Ottawa, which isn't in one of these Ontario fire regions, has its own ban. Kingston added one Monday. Quebec has restricted access to some forests and parks.

According to the two provinces, there are five other active forest fires in the region as of Tuesday morning: two in Algonquin Park that are "being held" and three not considered under control in the Pontiac region of western Quebec.

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Forest fire smoke is causing poor air quality across eastern Ontario and western Quebec. It may last most of the rest of the week in eastern Ontario, according to Environment Canada.

Wind is pushing smoke south, according to ministry fire adviser Shane McCool. He said the ministry isn't expecting widespread precipitation and is watching for lightning.

Thumbnail image courtesy of South Frontenac Fire and Rescue via Facebook

This article, written by Avanthika Anand, was originally published for CBC News. It contains files from With files from Joseph Tunney.