Smiths Falls mayor lauds town's teamwork
Opened up town to fire evacuees
"Neighbours helping neighbours" is the way the mayor of Smiths Falls, Ont. described how his community banded together to shelter more than 600 evacuees of the forest fires in northwestern Ontario.
The community near Ottawa took in some 640 evacuees from Deer Lake First Nation in July and housed them at the former Rideau Regional Centre after the fires forced them from their remote community.
"People are feeling very good about the ability that we had to be called upon to assist. I know a number of individuals within our community – businesses and individuals – welcomed our friends from northwestern Ontario," Mayor Dennis Staples said during an interview on CBC's All in a Day.
"They were made to feel very welcome in terms of offers of assistance. The community of Smiths Falls and Lanark County opened up their hearts to those individuals and I'm proud of that."
Staples said his community rallied together quickly to prepare for the arrival of the more than 600 men, women and children and this served as a good test for the town's emergency planning.
"All the groups and organizations that were part of the plan came together without hesitation and did what was required the last two weeks to look after the needs and requirements of the 640 people. The plans worked amazingly well," Staples said.
The evacuees were given the all clear to start returning to their homes again on the weekend after officials determined the long-term weather outlook remained favourable.
This was despite some new fires which have flared up over the past few days.
Despite the short stay in Smiths Falls, Staples said it was a touching goodbye.
"We made a lot of friends here in the past two weeks," Staples said. "It was a bit emotional."
Meanwhile, the last plane of Kingfisher Lake evacuees took off from Ottawa Monday morning returning residents to their homes in northern Ontario after forest fires also forced them to flee their homes last month.
More than 200 people already made their way Sunday to the remote Ojji-Cree community. Three return flights carrying evacuees, mostly families with children, departed Sunday from the Ottawa International Airport.
Ottawa received close to 300 residents from the remote community on July 21 and July 22. They settled at Algonquin College's student resident facility.
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 from northern communities by July 22 to larger centres in southern and central Ontario.