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Forest fires sparked in hot, dry Ontario

A heat wave in central and eastern Canada pushed temperatures to a record 97 degrees in Toronto while creating a severe forest fire hazard.

A lack of rainfall during the past three weeks has caused a crisis in dry forests in northern Ontario and Manitoba, where about 275 fires are burning.

Fire ripping through vast woodlands could cost thousands of forestry jobs and burn an estimated $920-million (Canadian) hole in the economy, government forecasters said.

"It's heart-wrenching," said forester Gary McKibbon as thousands of square miles of woods burned around Red Lake, Ontario.

Thousands of people were forced from their homes in small communities, including Leaf Rapids, Manitoba. Firefighter Chad Coombs said he thought the town "was a goner," but helicopters made a firebreak to keep the flames away.

Alberta and Saskatchewan have had some relief, with rain dampening the worst forest-fire season in more than a decade.

Albert Simard of the Canada Forest Service said 1995 will likely be a record year, topping 1989 when 12,185 fires seared 29,000 square miles of woods _ an area larger than New Brunswick.

Quebec wants use

of Canadian money

Quebec residents want this year's planned vote on independence from Canada to include offers of economic and political association.

A poll finds most Quebeckers believe they would continue to use Canadian money and have access to Canadian citizenship and passports even if the province opts to become a sovereign state.

Residents from the rest of Canada don't necessarily agree with extending such rights if the mainly French-speaking province separates, other polls have said.

Separatist Premier Jacques Parizeau says he will hold a vote on the independence question in the fall.

Ontario gets new

premier Monday

Ontario's new premier, Mike Harris, takes office Monday with a promise to end a "lost decade."

The return of the Conservatives will be 10 years to the day from when the Liberals gained control, followed the past five years by the socialist New Democrats.

Harris won a landslide victory with his "Common Sense Revolution," promising welfare reform, tax and spending cuts and the elimination of 13,000 government jobs.

One of his first acts will be to dump photo-radar vans in favor of having additional police to handle traffic duties. The vans have been nabbing motorists driving as little as five miles an hour over the limit on freeways around Toronto.

In Saskatchewan, New Democratic Premier Roy Romanow's government won a second consecutive victory in Wednesday's provincial election. He promised to "get the bankers off our backs" by attacking the deficit.

Facts and figures

A further drop in the Bank of Canada interest rate to 6.99 percent from 7.19 percent is expected to prompt lower mortgage and lending rates at banks. The prime rate is 8.75 percent.

Canada's dollar gained strength, rising Friday to 72.8 U.S. cents while a U.S. dollar was $1.3736 Canadian (excluding bank exchange fees).

Stock markets continue higher with Toronto's composite index at 4,536 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 1, 4, 5, 9, 27 and 42; bonus 13. (June 17) 5, 6, 14, 32, 44 and 45; bonus 21.

In brief

In a trade war truce, Nashville-based Country Music Television will get a 33 percent share of Canada's New Country Network. CMT had protested through the courts and governments over its ouster this year from Canadian cable TV to make way for a Canada-based service.

Canada remains committed to its peacekeeping role in Bosnia despite the holding of Canadian hostages for 24 days, says Defense Minister David Collenette. The last 12 Canadian hostages were released, including Capt. Patrick Rechner, who had been used as a human shield at an ammunition dump.

Tourists looking for a friendly place should head to Edmonton, Alberta, says Doctor's Review. The magazine sent reporters posing as tourists to nine Canadian cities. Edmonton residents were judged the nicest and most helpful followed by Halifax; Toronto and St. John's, Newfoundland, were last on the list.