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Rain may ease northern Ont. fires 0

QMI Agency

TIMMINS, Ont. - Sunday brought a welcome sigh of relief to Timmins, where residents of the northern Ontario city have been living under a state of emergency for days, as rain and cooler temperatures helped reduce the size of a massive wildfire.

Showers are in the forecast for the next couple of days as tired firefighters attempt to block a 41,200-hectare fire, known as Timmins No. 9, from creeping closer to the urban centre of the city.

The blaze, which has reduced in size, has edged to within 30 km of the main urban core, where most of the population of 45,000 live, but has been held there for a couple of days, due to dying winds and firefighting efforts.

Timmins Mayor Tom Laughren said favourable weather should help the fight.

"The weather is looking good at this point," he said. "It is cool and damp, and the winds have died down. This is ideal water-bombing weather."

"Yes, the fire has shrunk in size, from a community perspective this is a relief. But we need to remember the size of this fire, remember that it will take more than a days water-bombing and a days rainfall to control it."

The dying winds have also slowed the sparking of fresh fires, which have kept crews hopping from one hotspot to another for much of the week throughout tinder-dry northeastern Ontario.

The Ministry of Natural Resources has 25, four-man crews on the ground along with heavy equipment to try and halt the Timmins wildfire's steady advance. They are supported by helicopters and the northeastern fleet of water bombers.

An additional 20 crews from British Columbia joined the fight Sunday.

"From a firefighting perspective, the rangers are doing a great job," Laughren said. "They are doing everything they can to protect the properties and structures of evacuated persons and they've saved the majority of them."

Laughren told the press conference that only a few sheds and one truck were lost to the flames.

The efforts already paid off earlier in the weekend, when an evacuation order for part of the western end of the city was partially lifted, allowing residents to go home for the first time in days.

The smoke-choked city remains under a water ban and a travel restriction, with several highways in and out of the city cut off.

Ontario Provincial Police are considering the re-opening of Highway 101 ever four hours, considering the danger posed by smoke and flame.

"The OPP understand the impact the closure of this major artery has had on the people of the north," said Const. Marc Depatie said. "We are assessing the situation ever four hours."

To the south in Kirkland Lake, only some of the 300 evacuees from just outside town were allowed to return to their homes after another wildfire forced them out earlier in the week.

Officials from the Ministry of Natural Resources gave the go-ahead Saturday afternoon, saying some residents of Goldthorpe Road and Goodfish Road can go home in the next 24 hours as long as weather and fire conditions hold.

The fire there - just three kilometres from the town - has been kept at bay, but is still listed as out of control.

- with files from Kyle Gennings


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