About 2,000 people were evacuated from Poplar Hill, Deer Lake and Pikangikum as of July 16 due to smoke from forest fires near their communities. About 560 people were evacuated from Poplar Hill, about 630 from Deer Lake and about 865 from Pikangikum as of July 16.
“There’s almost 300 (Poplar Hill evacuees) in Thunder Bay and there’s some other people who went to Cochrane, there’s 100 there, and there’s another (group of evacuees in) Kapuskasing,” says Poplar Hill Deputy Chief Alvin Owen on July 14. “Chief (Howard Comber) is still in the community and one of the councillors. I think there’s about 160 left over in our community — they don’t want to go out.”
Owen says Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry officials told the community that there would be “a lot of smoke” from the forest fire.
“For our community, that’s the first time — we haven’t had an evacuation before,” Owen says. “We were flown out by the (Canadian Armed Forces C-130) Hercules and the Dash 8 and a Caravan. I think there were 70 or 80 people on (the Hercules) and on the Dash 8 over 30.”
As of July 17, Red Lake 65, sized at 12,325 hectares, was located about 7 kilometres northwest of Poplar Hill. Three FireRanger crews were assigned to protect the community and critical infrastructure. The fire behaviour was too aggressive to safely put out ground crews and smoke and visibility posed challenges for using firefighting aircraft in the area as of July 17. Fire officials were looking for opportunities to bring the fire to natural boundaries.
Red Lake 51, sized at 45,776 hectares, was located about 24 kilometres west of Deer Lake as of July 17. The fire behaviour was too aggressive to safely put out ground crews and fire officials were looking for opportunities to bring the eastern edge of the fire closest to the community to natural boundaries as of July 17.
Red Lake 77, rated as not under control at 17,120 hectares, was located about 36 kilometres west of Red Lake as of July 17. FireRanger crews were working alongside municipal firefighters to protect the community and critical infrastructure.
Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler called for the provincial government to declare a State of Emergency on July 12 to trigger an immediate response to assist remote First Nation communities threatened by forest fires.
“Three of our communities have been forced to evacuate, and if fire conditions and behaviour continue on current course the potential for full scale evacuations of several communities is a reality,” Fiddler says. “This is quickly becoming a NAN-wide emergency and requires an immediate, coordinated response. The City of Thunder Bay took quick action declaring a State of Emergency over the weekend that has allowed them to accommodate some of the evacuees from our communities, and we are grateful. It is time for the province to do the same so the appropriate personnel, equipment and supports can be mobilized before this situation becomes worse. Lives are at stake, there is no time to waste.”
The provincial government issued an Emergency Area Order for all of northwestern Ontario due to the extreme fire hazard and increased forest fire activity on July 14.
“I am monitoring the situation closely and the government is doing everything it can to protect communities and property in the area,” says Greg Rickford, minister of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry.
“Public safety is our first priority, and we will continue to provide all support necessary to protect the health and well-being of those impacted by wildfires.”
The provincial government also announced on July 16 that more than 100 firefighters and support staff from Mexico were scheduled to arrive in Toronto on July 17 to help fight against several large forest fires in northwestern Ontario.
“We are thankful for the brave efforts of Ontario’s forest firefighters and all the people that support their efforts to keep our northern communities safe,” Rickford says. “Keeping people safe and protecting property is our top priority.”
Thunder Bay Fire Rescue Fire Chief Greg Hankkio says about 174 people from Deer Lake and about 357 people from Poplar Hill were evacuated to Thunder Bay as of July 14 due to smoke and fire conditions.
“Our role is to provide them a home away from home while they are dealing with a very stressful situation in their community,” Hankkio says. “They began arriving on Sunday (July 11), the rest of the people arrived on Monday and some into Tuesday and now we’re getting them settled and trying to take care of any medical needs they have as best we can.”
In addition to Thunder Bay Fire Rescue, the local coordinating team in Thunder Bay included representatives from the City of Thunder Bay, Thunder Bay Police Service, Superior North EMS, Emergency Management Ontario, Canadian
Red Cross and Thunder Bay District Health Unit.
As of July 17 there were 102 active fires in the northwest region, including 34 fires not under control, seven fires being held, 18 fires under control and 43 fires being observed. A total of 13 fires were called out on July 17.