TORONTO - Dry weather and lightning strikes have sparked 20 new forest fires in northwestern Ontario.

Some 140 fires are now burning and about 1,000 residents -- many of them First Nations -- are still waiting to return to their homes.

Ministry of Natural Resources spokeswoman Stephanie Pagnucco says the periodic rain isn't enough to impact the dry weather conditions, particularly in the eastern regions where most of the new fires are burning.

Pagnucco says residents of Sandy Lake and Deer Lake are expected to return to their communities over the next couple of days.

More than 2,000 firefighters, including 586 from out of province, are fighting the blazes backed by about 100 aircraft.

Crews are continuing to monitor the smoke near communities that have seen residents return, including Fort Hope First Nation, Mishkeegogamang First Nation and Cat Lake First Nation.

"Firefighters are continuously securing the line in the community perimeters," says Pagnucco. "We've ensured that it's safe for them to move back, but we're still monitoring the smoke hazard very closely because it can change quickly."