Forest fires force evacuations of Keewaywin, Pikangikum First Nations
Tim Brody - Editor
The Municipality of Sioux Lookout has declared a State of Emergency to assist with the evacuation of Keewaywin First Nation.
Sioux Lookout, as of June 8, was hosting 237 evacuees from Keewaywin First Nation, as a wildfire burns near that community.
Evacuees include: Elders, pregnant women, children and persons requiring specific medical supports.
The State of Emergency was declared at 1:00 p.m. on July 2 by Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance to ensure that, “resources are made available and any costs incurred by the Municipality resulting from the assistance provided, are covered by the provincial and/or federal governments.”
The Municipality of Sioux Lookout further shared in a media release, “Sioux Lookout’s Emergency Control Group, consisting of representatives from the Municipality, Emergency and Police Services, local, provincial and federal health, safety and emergency management agencies and organizations, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, a variety of First Nations organizations, and community volunteers who assist with logistics, met this morning (July 3) to discuss the situation in Keewaywin – the community is being evacuated due to a forest fire. In concert with the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management’s (OFMEM) Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (PEOC), the Emergency Control Group determines how best the community can provide support and assistance, and manages the local response.”
Brian MacKinnon, Manager of Corporate Services/Municipal Clerk and Public Information Officer for the Sioux Lookout Emergency Control Group, shared that Sioux Lookout is presently at capacity with respect to the number of evacuees the community can host, based on availability of lodging.
Evacuees are being housed at a local hotel, and a local restaurant is providing all of the meals
The Sioux Lookout Emergency Control Group shared that an Information Centre/Help Desk is being staffed daily from the morning until 8:00 p.m. each evening, to ensure evacuees have access to information, supplies, and related matters.
MacKinnon further shared:
Our Recreation Centre is open to the evacuees during regular summer hours.
There are board games and puzzles at the Information Centre/Help Desk at the hotel.
Taxi vouchers continue to be available to the evacuees should they need to get to appointments or to take care of other matters.
We have change available for any evacuees requiring laundromat services (they can obtain this at the Information Centre/Help Desk).
We are continuing to accept donations of clothing at the Sunset Inn for some of the evacuees that need additional clothing.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s (MNRF) Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services department shared at 6:45 p.m. last Sunday evening, that there were at that time, 19 active fires in the region.
The Ministry shared, “Red Lake Fire Number 23 is 8 kilometers south of the community of Keewaywin. This fire is currently 71,993 hectares in size. The incident management team is established in Sandy Lake First Nation. Fire Ranger crews have been placing sprinklers around the community. Aerial ignition has been utilised to direct the fire towards natural boundaries such as lakes or rivers. Helicopters with buckets are dropping water on the fire to reduce the fire behaviour.”
The Ministry also shared, “Red Lake Fire Number 39 –The fire size is 40,439 hectares. This fire is being managed by an incident management team as part of a larger cluster of fires. The incident management team is looking for aerial ignition opportunities to tie the fire into natural boundaries. Sprinkler set-ups continue throughout the fire area and in the community of Pikangikum as a precaution. The fire is approximately six kilometers southwest of the community of Pikangikum on the opposite side of the lake.”
On July 6, federal Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale released the following statement regarding significant wildfires and heavy smoke threatening several communities across the region in Northwestern Ontario, including the community of Pikangikum First Nation: “I received a request this morning from the Province of Ontario regarding the serious threat of wildfires and heavy smoke across the region of Northwestern Ontario, putting multiple First Nations communities at risk. On behalf of the Government of Canada, the Honourable Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, and I, have accepted their formal request for federal assistance to provide immediate evacuation resources to the affected communities. This request from the province includes the deployment of Canadian Armed Forces personnel and transportation support required for the evacuation of members from the community of Pikangikum First Nation to a designated host community.
“The Government Operations Centre has staff working to coordinate the federal response to the situation in Ontario. Officials are working closely with federal and provincial partners. Canadians can be assured that all levels of government are working together to deliver the required help.
“I strongly encourage impacted residents to follow the directions and advice of law enforcement and first responders. On behalf of all Canadians, I thank all of the first responders working tirelessly to support Canadians in need.”
On July 7, provincial Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines and Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford issued the following statement about the Ontario government's response to the wildfires in Northwestern Ontario: “Emergency response personnel are working closely with the Ontario Provincial Police, community leaders, and other agencies to fight the fires in Northwestern Ontario and ensure people can evacuate safely. Multiple First Nation communities across the region are threatened with risks to public health and wellness.
“On behalf of the Province, I want to thank neighbouring communities who have volunteered to support those affected. While local authorities will lead and coordinate evacuations of people, we are on the front-line fighting the fire. I appreciate the tireless efforts of first responders and leadership in the affected Indigenous communities, and want to thank them for working to protect these communities.
“We will continue to monitor the situation, engage our municipal partners and provide updates as they become available. We will do everything we can to protect residents, visitors and property. The safety and well-being of those in the affected areas is the priority as we respond to this emergency.”
Smoke from the fires resulted in Environment Canada issuing a special air quality statement for the Sioux Lookout area, which went into effect on Saturday morning, and was still in effect as of the time this article was written.
The special statement advised, “If you, or someone in your care, develop symptoms, reduce or reschedule strenuous outdoors activities wherever possible until the air quality improves.
“Individuals may experience symptoms such as increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath. Children, seniors, and those with cardiovascular or lung disease, such as asthma, are especially at risk. Visit www.airhealth.ca for information on how to reduce your health risk and your personal contribution to pollution levels, as well as for current and forecast AQHI values.” People with questions or concerns about smoke and their health, can also contact TeleHealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000.
The MNRF advised, as of Sunday evening, the forest fire hazard was predominantly high to extreme across the region.