Ottawa

Some Northern Ontario fire evacuees could return soon

Some of the thousands of evacuees forced from their homes due to the threat of forest fires burning through northwestern Ontario could be returning home soon, according to provincial government officials.
Nearly 3,600 people from First Nations communities have been forced to flee their homes due to more than 100 forest fires burning in northeastern Ontario. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Some of the thousands of evacuees forced from their homes due to the threat of forest fires burning through northwestern Ontario could be returning home soon, according to provincial government officials.

Deputy Minister of Community Safety Ian Davidson said Sunday the province was working on a plan to bring some 3,000 residents back to their communities and reunite families that began to flee the fires in late June.

"That will be based on personal safety and developing a plan with individual First Nations, but we're working on that right now," Davidson said. He did not give a timetable for the return but said "it could happen relatively quickly."

Asked about the situation, Premier Dalton McGuinty said "the fire does appear at this point in time to be less threatening than in past days."

"We're working now to take care of families that have been displaced, and when it's safe to do so we'll help them get back home," McGuinty said.

3,591 people evacuated

Rescue operations for areas threatened by the northwestern Ontario wildfires have successfully transported 3,591 people to safe and temporary lodgings, the Ministry of Natural Resources said Sunday.

As of Saturday morning 111 forest fires were reported to be burning in northern Ontario. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

No further evacuations are planned as more than 2,000 firefighters continue trying to control 118 active fires  that have spread across a burning region nearly the size of Prince Edward Island.

The communities of Cat Lake First Nation, Keewaywin First Nation, Koocheching First Nation and Sandy Lake First Nation have been fully evacuated and hosted by other communities for the time being. Another seven first nations communities have been partially evacuated.

About 550 evacuees were due to arrive in Smiths Falls, about 75 kilometres south of Ottawa, from Deer Lake First Nation, near the Manitoba border. The empty Rideau Regional Centre building, which is slated to become a senior's residence, has the capacity to hold 2,500 people.

'Too smoky'

Annie Meekis and her two children were among the evacuees who have made a temporary home at the centre after an exhausting two weeks. The family has been out of their homes since July 8.

"We got evacuated. It's the second time," Meekis said, adding she wants to return home, but the community is covered in a haze that obscures the far shore of the lake. "My babies are two and three. They didn't like it, too. They always wanted to go outside, but it's too smoky."

An Emergency Medical Assistance Team with staff and equipment has been dispatched to Geraldton in Greenstone, Ont., from Thunder Bay to provide relief for evacuees in the area. The Canadian Red Cross is also on hand to help residents locate family members and loved ones.

More than 500,000 hectares of forest are on fire, but the forecast of cooler temperatures and a sprinkling of rain has been a note of optimism by providing favourable conditions to battle the blazes.

With files from The Canadian Press

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