This article came from Northern Life, Sudbury’s biweekly newspaper.
OPSEU says lack of updated information puts residents more at risk
Timmins fire 9 has grown to about 31,660 hectares in size, according to the City of Timmins. The fire exhibited extreme behaviour due to high winds throughout the day May 24, which blew significant smoke into the community. Steady winds continued overnight.
Extreme fire conditions are expected May 25, and winds are expected to be strong from the south southwest (20 – 35 km). Timmins declared a state of emergency and a full water ban. The declaration initiates the assistance of Emergency Management Ontario to assist with any evacuations caused by smoke or fire.
The fire remains about one km south of Highway 101 and two km west of Highway 144. It is approximately 30-35 km away from the City of Timmins. At this time, the fire has not crossed either highway; however, the possibility remains, according to the city’s website.
Smoke and ash will continue to affect the City of Timmins and surrounding area. Value protection efforts continue with resources on a prioritized basis. To date, more than 500 sprinklers have been installed, and a smoke alert is in affect for the city.
Kirkland Lake Fire 8 is currently estimated at 2,757 hectares, according to the community’s website.
Some growth was observed May 24, but suppression efforts succeeded in limiting additional fire spread.
During the May 24 peak burning period (1-5 p.m.), fire crews, supported by air attack including CL-415 water bombers, and helicopters with buckets, were able to limit additional fire spread towards structural values east of KLK 8, and some areas of the west flank continued to show moderate fire behaviour.
Kirkland Lake 8 was scanned May 25 using infra-red and a helicopter. The scan shows there are numerous hotspots along the east and west flanks of the fire.
FireRangers and helicopters equipped with water buckets are working together to locate the hotspots and extinguish them. Ongoing scanning will take place over the next few days.
In the next 24 hours, it is expected that winds will be shifting from the south to the west, when wind speeds will increase to 20 km/h to 30km/h with gusts of 50 km/h. Furthermore, a cold front is moving through the area, which may bring a minimal amount of precipitation and possible thunderstorm development.
Schools are closed in Kirkland Lake as a precautionary measure. Mayor Bill Enouy and Kirkland Lake Town Council approved a $100,000 emergency fund if an evacuation is necessary.
A total of 16 new fires were reported throughout the province on May 24. To date, there are 351 fires reported, burning a total of 30,569 hectares.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty visited Kirkland Lake yesterday and offered his support to the Province’s MNR staff, Hydro-One crews and to more than 300 people in the evacuated areas in outlying areas north of Kirkland lake.
“Our North is beautiful, but it can also be dangerous,” he said in a press release. “The spring forest fires that have threatened northern towns are a fresh reminder of that. But, northerners are tough, resilient and determined — and I know they’ll get through these challenges, too.
“I want to join with northern Ontarians in thanking the brave men and women who are standing on the front lines, fighting these fires, protecting precious property, and stopping at nothing until the job is done. We wish our firefighters strength, success and a speedy return to their own homes — and our deepest thanks for protecting the homes of their friends and neighbours.”
Meanwhile, with cuts to emergency information staff, Ontario could be headed for its own firestorm such as British Columbia had in 2003 with unprecedented forest fire damage, according to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.
Firestorm, a B.C. report, cited a lack of trained communicators to get timely, accurate information out to the public and media. As record numbers of fires rage out of control in northern Ontario, poor information flow on the status and handling of the fires could lead to disaster, OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas said.
“Of the four seasoned professionals dedicated to forest fire communications, only one remains,” Thomas said, in a press release. “That’s a 75-per-cent reduction in expertise. Northerners are wondering whether to leave their homes, afraid for their safety and their possessions. They need information. Ontario was publicly criticized for forest fire communications deficiencies in 2007 and is repeating the mistake.”
Media and the public have had to turn to police, fire, and municipal services, according to OPSEU.
Information pieced together from various sources may not be complete, current, or accurate, according to Pierre Verhelst, an aircraft maintenance engineer and president of OPSEU Local 605.
“Fire departments, the OPP, local police, and municipal leaders have their own jobs to do during emergencies. They can hardly be expected to do MNR’s work as well,” Verhelst said. “Without proper staffing in MNR’s emergency information services, citizens are not hearing what they need to hear, when they need to hear it, and with the level of detail they need.”
The area of Northern Ontario that’s on fire is equivalent to a six-km swath from Mississauga to the east end of Oshawa; yet, there has been little media coverage outside the north, OPSEU said. When the MNR cut information staff, it also cut the service that provided video to news outlets.
“When nobody’s telling the story, public safety is further compromised,” Thomas said. “This is a full-blown crisis. It is irresponsible, to say the least, for our provincial government to be taking the risks it’s taking with people’s safety and property.”