Even as huge, CL-415 waterbombers constantly soared over top of his Central Patricia fishing tackle shop Friday afternoon, and a nearby forest fire had blanketed the area in a smoky haze, Mike Shewan wasn’t hitting the panic button.
Shewan, who has lived in the Pickle Lake area for nearly 30 years, said he’s seen this movie before.
“This is my third or fourth forest fire,” he said. “It is pretty smoky (Friday), but they’ve got hoses and sprinklers set up. Last night, a helicopter was dropping down behind my place to pick up water.”
As of late Friday afternoon, the Township of Pickle Lake had not declared a state of emergency, even though the 781-hectare fire known as Sioux Lookout No. 8 was burning just one kilometre north of town.
A municipal bulletin noted that six provincial fire crews were combating the fire in addition to the aerial attacks.
“We ask that you remain calm, obey traffic control and direction given by OPP, fire, municipal and (ambulance officials),” said the bulletin posted on the town’s website.
The main route into the town, Highway 599, remained open Friday.
Meanwhile, 25 provincial fire crews battling a separate 3,835-hectare blaze threatening Pikangikum First Nation, were counting on a wet weekend forecast that could see up to 20 millimetres of rain to fall by Saturday.
“You don’t want to count (the volume) until it’s in the rain gauge,” cautioned Dryden-based provincial fire information office Chris Marchand.
The Pikangikum fire, known as Red Lake No. 14, was still classified as not under control Friday, although it has not grown in size for several days.
For nearly a week, about 2,500 Pikangikum residents have been evacuated from the reserve, which is located about 100 kilometres northwest of Red Lake.
The number of evacuees being put up at a Thunder Bay hotel has climbed to 377, from 330 earlier this week.
“We’re pretty much at capacity right now,” said Thunder Bay deputy fire Chief Greg Hankkio.
The city originally took 264 evacuees. The spike in numbers has been due to the reunification of families, medical appointments that can be accommodated in the city and people who have been “self-evacuating” after last week’s military airlifts.
Hankkio said on the whole, the evacuees have been bearing up fairly well, under the circumstances.
“There’s been a few people who have medical concerns, and we’re trying to help them with that,” Hankkio said. “But they’ve been great. They are truly wonderful people.”
The city has been working with the Indigenous First Nations Alliance to deal with any additional evacuees that might need accommodation, Hankkio added.
Marchand said the mercury soared to 30 C Friday in the Pikangikum region, and wind gusts of up to 40 km/h were blowing some smoke into the reserve. But it’s supposed to cool down over the weekend.
Aerial attacks on the Pikangikum fire resumed Friday after flights had been grounded due to a low flying ceiling.
There were four fires burning in Northwestern Ontario Friday, with the Pikangikum and Pickle Lake fires being the largest. None of the fires had been classified as under control.