Some 2,000 people have left Pikangikum First Nation since a forest fire broke out a week ago near the fly-in community about 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, Ont.
According to Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Derek Fox, evacuations are expected to continue on Wednesday, as officials may now need to go door to door to check if any residents are still home.
“There were reports that the smoke has reduced within the community, but that evacuation is still recommended,” Fox said.
He said the focus right now is to “keep the families together,” and provide resources and supplies to those who are staying in communities across Ontario, as well as Winnipeg.
“I’ve gotten reports from people in Timmins and some of the issues that are arising is that there are no interpreters … because it’s a Cree area … and Ojibway and Cree are two different languages,” Fox said.
Gathering rooms set up
According to Fox, many residents have “self-evacuated” through Taxi Bay — a landing about 30 minutes away by boat from the community, giving evacuees access to a road that leads them to Red Lake.
“It’s a matter of trying to account for them now and asking the self-evacuees to register or report that they have left,” he said, as “stations are set up in every township,” including Sioux Lookout, Dryden and Winnipeg.
Fox said Chief Amanda Sainnawap has decided to stay back in the community to ensure all residents have left their homes.
“I spoke to the chief yesterday … and she’s still there and she said it’s kind of strange. There’s about 2,000 evacuees gone, to their reports, but it looks like a ghost town, she said. It seems like everyone is gone, but she doesn’t know for sure.”
Gathering rooms are being set up at hotels for elders and families to get together, have tea and socialize, Fox said, but more resources and supplies are needed to help those who have left their homes.
“We have not got a report about on how the [evacuees] are doing or what they need,” he said. “I think it’s anything from supplies, to food … so there’s a whole number of issues that haven’t risen but may continue to arise due to the sudden evacuation that had to happen.”
Military air support on standby
Fox said the next step for the community is to ensure “the houses are empty” and everyone who needs to leave the community has done so.
According to the Canadian Armed Forces, the need for military airlift capabilities in Pikangikum in the last 48 hours, has waned, “as it has been deemed that the province of Ontario, through the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s contractual arrangements … is more than capable to satisfy the need at this time.”
Military air support remained on standby Wednesday, officials said, and could be reactivated if needed.