Flights left from Attawapiskat on Saturday to transport approximately 70 people forced from their homes by a fire in the First Nation community in northern Ontario — a fire that appears to have been caused by a candle used during a power outage.
Officials declared an emergency in the remote James Bay Coast community on Friday after a fire broke out earlier this week in a set of trailers being used as temporary housing due to a sewage system break.
No one was injured in the fire, which community leaders believe was caused by a candle in one of the rooms.
“I have been told by Chief Theresa Spence and various councillors and people I know on the ground, it seems to be the candle. But I'm sure there is still going to be an investigation," Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus told CBC News.
Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, released a statement saying that the fire department responded quickly and all residents managed to escape the fire without injury.
"The community of Kapuskasing has been quick to offer to facilitate an evacuation of displaced residents to
its community," said Valcourt.
"My officials are in continuous contact with the community and we are taking immediate steps to work with the chief, the band council, and other partners to ensure residents displaced by a fire at Attawapiskat First Nation have a safe, warm place to stay."
Two flights on Saturday will fly the evacuees to their temporary shelter.
No timeline for return
Mike Grant with the Red Cross told CBC News the residents are expected to arrive some time in the afternoon, but he has no specific numbers as to the children involved in the evacuation.
“We’ll provide them with basic needs, comfort kits, and any other needs required,” said Grant, adding that a cafeteria will be set up at a community centre in Kapuskasing to feed the evacuees.
Grant said he had no idea when the residents would be able to return home and would be staying in hotel rooms in the meantime.
“We’ve had evacuations before where they’ve stayed up to three to four months in hotel rooms," noted Grant.
The Ontario government is arranging the air transportation.
The Provincial Emergency Operations Centre of the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management is working with Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development Canada and municipal leaders.
Trailers likened to 'holding cells'
The trailers that were once used by De Beers Canada to house workers at the company's diamond mine west of the community. De Beers donated them to Attawapiskat in 2009.
The fire is the latest in a string of hardships the community has recently faced. The week started when a storm with strong winds knocked out power to the community of 2,000.
In addition, pipes had burst in the local high school earlier this month.
The set of connected trailers in the complex has long, narrow hallways and look like "holding cells, where young families are living," said Angus, who described them as a "substandard infrastructure."
"There are four toilets and a couple of showers and one kitchen facility for 80 to 90 people," he said.
In 2011, Attawapiskat became a flashpoint for relations between the federal government and First Nations after a housing crisis triggered a state of emergency.