2 planeloads of Pikangikum forest fire evacuees flown to Winnipeg Monday
66 people join more than 320 other residents from fly-in Ontario community brought to Manitoba over weekend
Two planeloads of evacuees from Pikangikum First Nation arrived in Winnipeg on Monday as a forest fire half the size of Brandon threatens the remote northern Ontario community.
The 3,600-hectare blaze near Pikangikum, about 300 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, forced more than 1,500 people out of the fly-in First Nation over the weekend.
In total, 66 people arrived in the city Monday, Red Cross spokesperson Jason Small confirmed Monday evening. Hercules aircraft from Winnipeg had previously shuttled more than 320 evacuees into the city Sunday.
The evacuees are staying at hotels in Winnipeg.
"I'm just glad to get out of there," Harold Dunsford said Monday, moments after stepping onto the tarmac in Winnipeg. His wife is with him, but he's not sure where his adult sons or grandchildren were sent.
"Hopefully my house will be standing when I get back home."
Two nights before he left, Dunsford said he could see flames in the sky.
"It's hard to describe how you feel, eh?" he said. "Just scared."
Earlier Monday, the Red Cross had been expecting as many as 400 people on eight separate planes.
Pikangikum is about an hour and 20 minutes from Winnipeg by air, said Shawn Feely, Red Cross vice-president of Manitoba and Nunavut.
Roughly 800 people were flown to Thunder Bay and other northwestern Ontario communities on Saturday and Sunday. Limited hotel availability prompted the government in that province to look west for more accommodations, Feely said.
"Our families are all over the place — as far as Timmins and Kapuskasing and Cochrane [in Ontario]," said Ken Strang, who arrived in Winnipeg in the Hercules aircraft Sunday.
Strang said he's been separated from his wife, children and grandchildren.
"There's families here wondering where everybody's at," he said.
Strang said he's worried about how evacuees will keep busy in the city.
"We have to keep an eye on each other. There are things that can happen," he said. "We could try to get the families busy with things, daily, have a daily routine."
Feely said the Red Cross, which is helping coordinate the evacuations, is working to keep families together "as much as possible."
"With hotel availability, that's a big factor," he said.
The organization is working to put together recreational activities for the evacuees, he added. Possibilities include outings to museums or parks.
About 1,000 of the 3,800 people who live in Pikangikum are considered especially vulnerable to smoke.
The first wave of evacuees left the community on Thursday.
The fire continues to burn and it isn't clear when evacuees will be allowed to return home, said Feely.
"It all depends on what Mother Nature brings," he said.
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