Athabasca Chipewyan declare state of emergency to help members get home

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, based in Fort Chipewyan, Alta., has declared a state of emergency as it attempts to get its members home as a wildfire continues to blaze in the nearby city of Fort McMurray.

Chief Allan Adam urges all members displaced by Fort McMurray fire to contact band office

Fires rage outside of Fort McMurray, Alta. A wildfire in the area has forced an evacuation of the city, destroying homes and displacing thousands as fire crews battle the blaze. (Terry Reith/CBC)

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, based in Fort Chipewyan, Alta., has declared a state of emergency as it attempts to get its members home as a wildfire continues to blaze in the nearby city of Fort McMurray.

Chief Allan Adam says that the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is organizing a plane to gather displaced members and fly them back to Fort Chipewyan, but that displaced members need to contact their band office with their location. (CBC)
Chief Allan Adam says that any displaced members of the First Nation or Fort Chipewyan residents should call the band office as soon as possible at (780) 713-1451 or (780) 697-3730, or e-mail with their location.

The First Nation will then attempt to organize a ride to an airstrip, where a plane will fly them home. 

"We're trying to organize a head count for all the members of ACFN, and people from Fort Chip," said Adam.

"If they want to come back for Fort Chip, we're trying to get a plane arranged. But we need to get organized."

Adam said that the First Nation has clearance to land at a Shell airstrip north of Fort McMurray, where a plane will pick up residents and bring them back to Fort Chipewyan. However, he added that the First Nation was having difficulty reaching all its members.

"We've got people all over the place, we can't get ahold of everybody," he said. "People are everywhere. People are displaced everywhere.

"I've got people down in Lac La Biche, Edmonton. My wife is stranded in Albian Sands. We have boats that launched on the lake this morning [to try and ferry people home by water], some of them are still stranded on the lake, on the ice right now. Some have went through.

"We're doing what we can, but everybody's in disarray right now, because nobody could understand the magnitude of how important this is."

Adam said the fire situation has placed the community of Fort Chipewyan, located approximately 200 kilometres north of Fort McMurray but only accessible by air and seasonal ice road, into "chaos."

The community of Fort Chipewyan is located approximately 200 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. It is not currently threatened by wildfires, but the Athabasca Chipewyan have declared a state of emergency as they attempt to help members affected by the Fort McMurray fire. (Google Maps)

"Nobody has dealt with the situation before," he said. "We're trying to calm the situation down before we do stuff."

Once the situation has calmed, said Adam, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is planning to meet with the Mikisew Cree and local Métis leaders to co-ordinate a response, saying that "all... options are open right now," including housing people displaced to Fort Chipewyan by the fire.

Adam urged all members of the Athabasca Tribal Council to use the government supports in place if they are displaced by the fire. 

"We are doing what we can from our office, but please utilize the government support plans that are out there right now," he said. "It's the best thing that is being offered."

'Fort Chip is like one big family'

As leaders attempt to co-ordinate transportation for displaced members, the community with a population of about 850 is hard at work preparing for arrivals.

"Fort Chip is like one big family," said resident Bertha Cyprien. "So we're all together trying to help everybody, and find rooms and accommodations for them."

Cyprien said that the community is organizing boats to pick up people displaced by the fire, and is also organizing donations of groceries and clothes — "jackets, blankets, whatever they need," said Cyprien.

A community restaurant, Chip's Family Restaurant, is also preparing to "cook up a storm" for people coming into the community, according to Cyprien. 

with files from Loren McGinnis, Guy Quenneville