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Crews continue battling dozens of forest fires in northeastern Ontario

Last Updated Jul 23, 2018 at 7:20 am EDT

Smoke from a nearby forest fire is seen at the Hartley Bay marina in Alban, Ont. near the French River Provincial Park in this undated handout photo. Crews are continuing to battle dozens of forest fires in northeastern Ontario, after the biggest of the blazes more than doubled in size over the course of a day. The province's Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said in a release that as of Saturday night 64 fires were burning in the region, with 29 of them out of control.THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, James Palmer *MANDATORY CREDIT*

KILLARNEY, Ont. – Crews from across the country continued to cut down dozens of raging fires in northeastern Ontario on Sunday, after evacuation orders left some property owners uncertain of whether their homes and businesses would survive the flames.

Provincial police issued a statement Sunday saying the largest fire in the area — known as “Parry Sound 33” — had grown to more than 5,000 hectares in size and was “not yet under control.”

The blaze prompted mandatory evacuation orders for 50 homes that are only accessible by boat on Saturday, several days after it was discovered.

Police said those who could access their properties by road were subject to a “12-hour notice of evacuation order” as of Sunday evening.

James Palmer, whose family has owned the Hartley Bay Marina for 65 years, said he was among those pushed out of the area Saturday, but he hopes to return soon to check up on the property.

“Our business is still standing, but that could change at a moment’s notice,” he said. “It’s extremely stressful because not only is it my home, it’s my place of business.”

He noted that the marina is one of the only access points to the mainland from campgrounds.

Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources said the orders and alerts apply to properties between the western and northern borders of French River Provincial Park, east to Highway 69, and as far south as the Key River’s south shore, including people on both shores of the French and Pickerel rivers and Hartley Bay.

Parry Sound 33 is one of more than 60 fires burning in the region, with 20 of them out of control as of Sunday afternoon — a slight improvement from the previous night.

Firefighters and equipment have poured in from across Canada, the United States and Mexico to help Ontario-based crews. Five waterbombers were aiding hard-pressed ground crews in their struggle to contain the flames.

Palmer said they had to evacuate the entire park yesterday afternoon.

“It was a grab your stuff and go moment yesterday,” he said. Heavy smoke filled the air and there was concern for the elderly and children, he said.

“The fire grew exponentially out of control. It’s not contained, it’s a wildfire,” he said. “We dumped everybody out of the park as fast as we could,” he said, noting that more than 200 vehicles were on site at the time.

Most evacuees are seasonal cottage-goers or campers who have fled to hotels in Sudbury, or have gone home, said Palmer, who is also seeking refuge in the nearby city.

“We’ve had a lot of smoke,” said Renee Germain who lives in Warren, Ont., located between Sudbury and North Bay. Though she’s not in the evacuation zone, she’s offering her property as a refuge for those with horses and livestock.

The fires have often been helped along by Mother Nature, with hot, dry conditions combined with lightning strikes and blustery winds fuelling — and often igniting — the flames.

People in the French River and Britt, in the Parry Sound district, are looking to evacuate their animals due to the smoke, she said. She’s reached out to a few people.

“You never know, you may not have any smoke right now, but in an hour from now, you could get smoked out,” she said.

“We’re hoping that we can help other farms, or other homes, save a few animals,” she said. “If we can help other people who are impacted, I really hope that people out here follow suit.”

Germain said the warnings about fires are unsettling, and she’s concerned about animals getting left behind.

She hopes people get their animals out early before a possible evacuation order.

“Everything is very, very dry. We haven’t had much rain at all,” she said. “We have new fires that are starting every single day.”

— By Olivia Bowden in Toronto.