More Ontario forest fire evacuees going home

Hundreds of evacuees from a northwestern Ontario First Nation will begin returning to their homes on Sunday after a raging forest fire forced them from their community earlier this month.
One of the fires that forced thousands of people from their homes in northern Ontario. ((Mitch Miller/Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources/Canadian Press))

Hundreds of evacuees from a northwestern Ontario First Nation will begin returning to their homes on Sunday after a raging forest fire forced them from their community earlier this month.

About 300 members of Kingfisher Lake First Nation have been staying at Ottawa's Algonquin College since being evacuated from their homes on July 21.

The first planes will leave for Kingfisher Lake, about 350 kilometres northeast of Sioux Lookout, on Sunday, with the rest of the evacuees set to return Monday.

The evacuees can return because the long-term forecast showed conditions were favourable, Ontario's Ministry of Natural respources spokeswoamn Carin Gassford said.

In the community, workers have been ensuring that all the necessary services will be in place when the planes land.

The services include nursing stations, clinics, stores and security, said Stan Beardy, Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which includes Kingfisher Lake.

"We have to make sure the stores are stocked and in some cases, they were cut off from power and from electricity so we had to make sure the electricity is restored," Beardy told CBC News on Sunday.

For many of the evacuees, the experience was very straining, Beardy said, and many people tried to stay in the community as long as possible.

"But it got to the point where smoke was so bad that they had a hard time breathing," he said.

The evacuees were happy to move to a safe place, he said. But some found the different language, food and customs stressful.

"We need to understand we are talking about remote communities and a lot of those people have never been out of their community," Beardy said.

The Kingfisher Lake evacuees follow 1,300 other people evacuated to other communities who have already returned to their homes. Nearly 3,600 people were evacuated form northern communties by July 22 to larger centres in southern and central Ontario.

Conditions in northwestern Ontario are still dry, but firefighters have moved from fighting large blazes to putting out hotspots, Gassford said.

But 13 new fires broke out overnight Saturday, most from lightning, and the danger is not completely gone, she said.   The Canadian Forces, local communities and Ontario ministries have been working on the evacuation.