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Lightning sparks more fires in northwestern Ontario

About 120 fires continue to ravage hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest in northwestern Ontario with lightning strikes igniting at least 26 new fires in the last 24-hours, the Ministry of Natural Resources says.

But a weather system from the Prairie provinces may bring some welcome showers.

“We are expecting a weather system to move in from the Prairies, bringing some precipitation with it,” MNR spokeswoman Gabby Rivard said.

“How much is not known as of yet but we’re hoping the cooler temperatures will help with the fire behaviour and also provide the opportunity for the fire crews to work harder on the frontline.”

Lightning strikes caused the start of about 26 new fires in the region in the last 24-hour period, with about 120 active fires burning across northwestern Ontario as of Monday. More than 2,000 fire fighters are battling the forest fires, including at least 50 from the United States.

Nearby communities are currently not at risk from smoke or active fires, the ministry said.

“We’ll assess the situation as they come up. We have the fires under control so there is nothing that would substantiate an evacuation at this time,” Rivard said.

However, smoke remains a concern for residents in the region.

“The smoke that continues is sporadic. Smoke can be an issue but right now, there is no emergency for any smoke-related issues,” she said.

The fires forced thousands of residents out of their homes in mid-July but they have all returned after ministry officials deemed the communities safe.

All evacuees from affected northern First Nations communities have returned home in the last week, she said.

So far, this year, there have been 807 fires in Ontario forests, down from 840 last year.

But there have been significantly more hectares of forest burned compared to this time last year.

An estimated 570,000 hectares of forest have burned in the province this year compared to an estimated 15,000 last year.

“It’s probably because of the dry conditions. The fire behaviour will sort of predict how many hectares are burned,” Rivard said.

“Last year, we’ve had lower-than-normal temperatures and more precipitation over the season so the fires can be contained quite quickly. This year, on the other hand, the dry conditions and the hot temperatures increase the fire behaviour – it’s more intense.”

Rivard said that the MNR will continue to monitor the fires in the region and take appropriate action to keep nearby communities safe.

The MNR said the fire hazard is high to extreme in the northwest region of Ontario and urges residents to use caution with outdoor fires.

Five new forest fires were reported in the northeast region since Sunday. The fire hazard is low to moderate in the southern half of the region but high in the northern half, the MNR said.

Click here to see where active fires are burning.