“A race against time”: As wildfires approach, aboriginal people and towns in northwestern Ontario prepare to evacuate

Aboriginal people and towns in northwestern Ontario are monitoring weather forecasts and developing emergency evacuation plans as firefighters are racing to control wildfires throughout the area.

“Our community is in a race against time,” said Dean Owen, chief of the Pican Kikum First Nations, in a written statement. “With so many communities evacuated due to fires, we are all fighting for limited resources and space.”

Located about 100 kilometers northwest of Red Lake in Ontario, the First Nations with a population of more than 3,000 declared a state of emergency on Monday night and asked about 500 to 800 “vulnerable groups” to evacuate from Picankum. This is the third time in three years that community members have been forced to flee due to the threat of forest fires and smoke.

The former chief of Pikangikum, Amanda Sainnawap, was one of the few people who was able to leave the indigenous people on Monday night. He took a half-hour boat ride to reach the taxi bay on the mainland, where there is the only road leading to the Nantong Red Lake and the provincial road network, Nugessar Road.

Senawap posted a short video on Facebook of her family driving away from the community.

Watch | The former aboriginal chief leaves the fire-affected community (note: the video contains offensive language):

A few days of community-wide evacuation was carried out in Poplar Hill near the border between Ontario and Manitoba. This area is located about 120 kilometers north of Red Lake in Ontario. Evacuation of vulnerable groups is currently underway. Aboriginal people of the lake. Both have declared a state of emergency, and some other indigenous people are on high alert.

According to the public latest news released by the city’s mayor, Fred Mota, residents of Red Lake are also preparing for a possible evacuation, as two fires in the area have caused “increasing concern”.

“These fires are likely to merge together and gain strength and momentum. It is estimated that once they merge, the fire may exceed 150,000 hectares.”

Motta added that the possibility of evacuation is “still possible” because it is forecast to rain at least until Sunday.

Prioritize the health of the disadvantaged

Matthew Hope of the Independent First Nations Alliance of the Tribal Committee, which supports the evacuation of Pikkum, said that the smog drifting over northern communities is causing health and safety issues, especially when it involves vulnerable groups, including young children, the elderly and other health problems People. .

In an interview with CBC, he told CBC that Pikangikum has been providing air scrubbers for community families to improve their ventilation and air quality.

During the Facebook live broadcast on Tuesday night, Kiiwetinoong’s New Democratic Party MPP Sol Mamakwa had a conversation with Deer Lake First Nation’s band member David Gordon Meekis.

Mickis said that the nurses compiled a list of people most likely to have serious health complications, and the indigenous leadership has been coordinating to keep these people and their families away from the smoke by plane.

“I woke up [a couple days ago] Thought I was troubled by smoke,” he said.

“People with asthma or elderly people who have difficulty breathing… how do they feel? Most of them live in old houses. They are not sealed, so smoke enters the windows through the door.”

The community, the hotel will receive the evacuees

A public affairs official from the Canadian Armed Forces confirmed that they are providing evacuation support and people will be directed to communities in the area, including Thunder Bay, Dryden, Kapuskasing, Cochrane and Cornwall. NAV Canada Center.

According to a statement from the Deputy Attorney General of Ontario and the Department of Armed Forces, Sudbury, Timmins and even Ottawa are prepared to provide additional support.

Photos from aboriginal people and towns, including this one from Weagamow aboriginal people, flooded social media, with heavy smoke and forest fires causing orange skies. (Courtesy of Lisamarie Winters)

Facebook group “Red Lake Evacuees in 2020/2021”, Created in August 2020 during the last forest fire-related evacuation in the town, it has been overwhelmed by personal and hotel posts to provide space, rooms and cabins for people escaping the fire.

Scott Ellery, the owner of Lac Seul Wilderness Resort, hosted the evacuees last year and has now expressed his willingness to do so.

“We are part of the community… so it makes sense for us to open our doors to those in need,” Ellery said in an interview with CBC News.

Support from outside firefighters

Firefighters from the nearby Kenora and Ear Falls departments were sent to Red Lake to assist staff in the area. Both received requests for help from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, especially for the installation of sprinkler systems and other fire protection equipment.

Ear Falls fire chief Darryl Desjardins said they had sent six members.

“It will be continuously monitored. If they still need staff, [we] Only continue to rotate our staff. “

According to Ontario’s Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services Agency, as of Tuesday night, there were 79 active fires in northwestern Ontario: 18 new fires and 30 uncontrolled.

There were five “notable” forest fires, including the uncontrolled Kenora 51 on 78,101 hectares, with 21 crew members and 13 helicopters.

Restricted fire zones are still valid in most of the area.

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