Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Timmins slammed by three forest fires

The skies over Timmins were heavy with smoke Wednesday as at least three significant forest fires flared up in the middle of the afternoon and continued into the evening. The first and worst of the fires occurred just south and east of Schumacher in the heavily wooded and hilly area near the Vipond Road. It was just before 3:00 p.m. that grey white smoke could be seen rising above the trees. Twenty minutes later, the smoke was turning light brown and black as the fire began consuming more fuel in the forest.
Another fire broke out in the Kamiskotia area in the near west end of Timmins and then another fire occurred further west in the area of the Montcalm Mine Road, north of Highway 101.
The fires put a huge demand on the resources of the Timmins Fire Department as men and equipment struggled to get anywhere close to the fast moving and quickly growing fire near Schumacher. Firefighters hooked up several hundred feet of what they call forestry hoses to try to put out flames on the edge of the blaze.
For fire chief Mike Pintar who was on the front lines it quickly became apparent that manpower wasn't going to control the situation. The fire was "crowning", as flames raced from treetop to treetop.
Just before 4:00 p.m. Pintar sent an urgent request to the Ministry of Natural Resource to have flying water tankers assigned to the Schumacher fire.
Water tankers were in the region working on fires north of Sudbury and Capreol.
By 4:05 p.m. Pintar was on the line to the MNR demanding water tankers since the fire was by that time in sight of several homes along Gold Mine Road (the Back Road).
Within minutes and MNR helicopter was overhead assessing the fire and before 4:30 p.m. one Twin Otter water bomber began working the fire.
By that time, Timmins Police has closed the back road since there was heavy smoke evident, and also to make it easier for the emergency vehicles to move back and forth.
While that effort was underway, it became apparent that the two other fires were flaring up in the west and being pushed along by heavy smoke.
At the same time, when it looked as if the fire was going to cross the Hydro One power line east of Schumacher, the decision was made to cut the power. A Hydro One worker explained that fire, smoke and live high voltage lines do not mix and that it could result in live wires falling to the ground. (continued...) (Click Photos to see larger size)

There was a concern for several minutes that homeowners living along the Gold Mine Road would have to be evacuated if the wind kept blowing more southerly, than in an easterly direction. At one point, Chief Pintar notified the Goldcorp Dome Mine that if the smoke build-up were going to continue, the mine would have to be evacuated. Although preparations were made, home and mine evacuations were not carried out, according to Pintar, except for a couple of residents with pre-existing medical conditions.
Just after 5:00 p.m. it became apparent that more water tanker aircraft were assigned to Timmins. Four of the Canadair CL415 water bombers set up a carousel approach on Porcupine Lake, swooping down, scooping up six thousand litres of lake water, lifting off and heading back to the fire.
Two of the tankers were from Ontario. The other two were from Quebec. Dozens of area residents, armed with cameras, stood along the shores of Porcupine Lake snapping photos.
After an hour of regular water bombing this way, it became evident the tankers were having an effect as the smoke plume on the horizon over Schumacher diminished greatly.
The tankers kept up the effort but soon devoted their attention to the fires in the west end. Many Timmins residents admit being momentarily startled by the massive low-flying yellow aircraft.
By 6:00 p.m. it appeared that the fire was settling down, but still burning in an easterly direction. For the most part, it seems the worst of the fire is over or at least subsiding.
Timmins Fire Department, Timmins Police and the Ministry of Natural Resources have set up a joint command post on Vipond Road.
At 7:00 p.m. Chief Pintar and the MNR took to the air to check on the situation and come up with a plan of attack. Pintar has suggested the local fire crews will have to be on duty throughout the night in case the wind causes any dangerous flare-ups.

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