Fire and emergency crews in Northern Ontario are facing a fierce battle as they work to gain the upper hand on a powerful forest fire in the Timmins area.

The City of Timmins has declared a state of emergency as the fire has forced hundreds to evacuate, closing roads and, at one point, the city’s airport.

Ontario’s forest fire season is off to an especially bad start, with more than 350 fires so far this year.

The average for this time of year historically is less than 200.

The fire causing the biggest concern right now is being called the “Timmins 9″ fire, with strong winds fanning and spreading the flames.

The OPP has warned that anyone who ignores evacuation orders is compromising their safety.

“We’ve had good cooperation, if not great, from I’d say 95 per cent of the residents who’ve had to be evacuated or forced to leave,” said one official.

Winds were expected to be lighter Saturday, which could help firefighters contain the blaze.

The problem so far has been that the extremely dry conditions, mixed with the extremely high temperatures and high winds have made the fire unpredictable.

With showers forecast for tomorrow, officials say their outlook is improving.

There is also a big fire burning in near Kirkland Lake and smaller fires in Parry Sound and Bancroft.

On Thursday, Premier Dalton McGuinty made the following statement on the fires:

“I want to thank our firefighters and other first responders for the exceptional work they’re doing to battle blazes and help keep families safe in Northern Ontario.

Our North is beautiful, but it can also be dangerous. The spring forest fires that have threatened Northern towns are a fresh reminder of that.

But Northerners are tough, resilient and determined — and I know they’ll get through these challenges, too.

I want to join with Northern Ontarians in thanking the brave men and women who are standing on the front lines, fighting these fires, protecting precious property, and stopping at nothing until the job is done.

We wish our firefighters strength, success and a speedy return to their own homes — and our deepest thanks for protecting the homes of their friends and neighbours.”