Killarney forest fire forces evacuation order, restricts travel

stock image

KILLARNEY—Tinder dry conditions across Northeastern Ontario have contributed to dozens of forest fires in recent days, with smoke heavy in the air in many Island communities. The blaze in the Killarney area was still out of control as of Monday, with unconfirmed reports that at least five cottages have been destroyed and mandatory evacuation orders and travel restrictions being implemented.

All travel and and use on the French River waterway, Pickerel River (west of Highway 60/400), Henvey Inlet, the Key River basin and all associated tributaries that access those river systems, including all access from Georgian Bay and all islands on Georgian Bay within the French River Provincial Park boundaries, Dokis Island system and Puddick Island and all islands north of Henvey Inlet near shore is prohibited. All access roads west of Highway 69/400 north to the French River area are closed.

“It’s pretty scary,” admitted Killarney Mayor Ginny Rook. Mayor Rook and her husband Jim, also a municipal councillor and the town’s emergency coordinator, had been on their phones most of the past few days. “We have two portable phones and the batteries have been pretty much drained.”

“Any businesses not associated with the fire are closed,” noted Mayor Rook, pointing out that the fire has taken a significant toll on local businesses.

Reports have suggested that as many as five cottages have been destroyed, but it is still too early to have an accurate assessment of the damage.

“The MNRF are going out in the air to have a look later on today, so we might have a better idea of the damage tomorrow,” said Mayor Rook. For the moment residents are breathing a cautious sigh of relief that the winds are pushing the fires to the west and away from the built up areas.

So far the fire in the Key River area is anticipated to be in the “out of control” category for the next 30 days and has so far consumed more than 8,000 hectares. The Henvey Inlet wind farm has been ordered to remove equipment to clear a path for helicopters and water bombers.

A press release from the municipality confirmed that the fire has started to move in a westerly direction and away from the Pickerel River. The release notes that the fire area confirmed so far is 4,380 hectares “with some projections indicating that it could grow to 8,000 hectares depending upon the weather, rain, wind direction, humidity etc.”

The mandatory evacuation order for water access properties is expected to be in force for a minimum of five to seven days, although depending upon what happens over the next couple of days the order may be extended.

“We would suggest that all cottagers and campers return home,” suggests the release, going on to note that “over the time that the order is in place the Key River, the French and the Pickerel River will be patrolled by the OPP to protect your properties and to stop attempted access. OPP will be posted at all access points on the three rivers.”

The Emergency Area Order, signed July 21, was issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry prohibiting access and travel in portions of Parry Sound District “where there are public safety hazards as a result of increased fire activity from Parry Sound #033.”

The measure was put in place “to ensure public safety while allowing fire personnel to safely and effectively suppress the fires in the identified area.”

The ministry order notes that if a member of the public believes that access within the restricted travel area is necessary for non-recreational purposes, they should call 705-746-4201 to request a travel authorization permit. The MNRF will review the request for access based on the rationale provided, local fire activity and the potential fire risk.