A threatening forest fire on Pikangikum First Nation’s doorstep had grown to seven times its original size by Friday afternoon, but favourable winds continued to keep smoke at bay as precautionary airlifts of evacuees continued.

The bad news is that the fire appears to have knocked out infrastructure located off the reserve that provides Pikangikum’s telephone and internet services, according to Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN).

“We are working with Bell Canada to determine the extent of any damage to the fibre-optic network, and to make any repairs to this infrastructure as quickly as possible,” a NAN news release said.

“The damaged area is in the middle of the fire and it is unsafe to send technicians.”

Pikangikum, home to about 3,800 people, is located about 100 kilometres northwest of Red Lake.

Provincial officials said the fire — which was pegged at about 2,900 hectares by late Friday — was about 2.5 kilometres from Pikangikum’s airport. It continued to expand away from the reserve to the south-east.

Four large CL-415 waterbombers, led by a King Air “bird-dog” aircraft, attacked the fire for much of Friday, said Dryden-based fire information officer Chris Marchand.

On the ground, 14 crews of four firefighters each set up hoses around the fire’s perimeter.

There is no rain in the immediate forecast; smoke could creep into the community if winds change direction, Marchand said.


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