Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is investigating whether construction crews building a major wind-turbine project on the eastern shores of Georgian Bay amidst tinder-dry conditions caused a forest fire that is now devouring more than 5,600 hectares of land.
The fire started last Wednesday on Henvey Inlet First Nation at the site of the province’s largest wind project, where crews are blasting rock and clearing land to erect dozens of wind turbines.
Despite “extreme fire hazard” conditions and a region-wide fire ban, a number of workers say crews continued to blast rock and use heavy machinery that had set off several small fires earlier last week. The workers asked CBC News to withhold their names out of fear of losing their jobs.
But on Wednesday, things got out of control.
“We heard on two-way radios that there was an Argo [an all-terrain vehicle] that broke down in the bush where the fire began,” one worker said.
“During the week, as we proceeded through work, there were fires that started up from our machines … little fires,” he said. “But this one started and it was too big for [workers] to control. And it got out of hand and it turned into devastation.”
A second worker told CBC News he was equipped with a 20-litre fire suppression “piss pack” but it was no match for the blaze that broke out Wednesday.
The workers said their bosses were pushing for seven-day work weeks and were also considering night shifts to keep up with the project developer’s schedule.
“They were still blasting every day, sometimes two or three shots a day,” one worker said, despite the extreme fire-hazard conditions. “We’ve had fires start off beside blasting mats, but it still went on every day.