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Communities working to 'help those in need' during forest fire season

As crews battle forest fires across northern Ontario, several communities are stepping up to help those who have to leave their homes.

Province looking for more host communities to assist during forest fire season

The province says it is currently battling 20 active fires. As a result, people are being flown out of their communities due to heavy smoke. (Ontario Forest Fires/Twitter)

As crews battle forest fires across northern Ontario, several communities are stepping up to help those who have to leave their homes.

According to the province, there are 20 active fires in Ontario, posing a risk to about 14 communities.

Two communities in northwestern Ontario, Keewaywin and Pikangikum First Nations, have declared a state of emergency due to smoke. According to the province, the residents of Keewaywin are being flown out and placed in a number of areas, including Sioux Lookout and Timmins. The residents from Pikangikum are in the process of being taken to Kapuskasing and Hearst.

The province says it is "actively working on a contingency plan in the event a large-scale evacuation becomes necessary." That includes asking host communities to take in more people or asking other towns or cities to step in and help.

In Kapuskasing, the community has increased how many people it can house from 300 up to 450.

Guilaine Baril, the chief administrative officer for Kapuskasing, says the community partners with local hotels, restaurants and transportation companies to move people and supplies around the community. He says even the hospital gets involved.

"A lot of time, we see people who are ill and need special medical attention come off those planes," he said.

"That really puts a lot of pressure on our small hospital. There's other medical or health services that come in as well."

Each year, the community hosts people from Kashechewan who need to leave the community each spring due to flooding concerns. He says the process of hosting evacuees is nothing new to the community.

"Where it's very different is the people from Kashechewan come back year over year. We know them by name," he said.

"They come in, they know the drill. We call them professional evacuees. We don't need to give them a lot of direction as they know what to do and where to go."

He adds it's been different taking on a new group of people.

"We're happy to do it, but our staff is getting worn out so I'd say for this one here to be perfectly honest we're doing it because we're being asked to do it and we want to do the right thing," he said. "We want to be a helping community and help those in need when we can."

Northern Ontario forest fires are starting to bear down on communities in the region. And that means other towns and cities will rise up to help evacuees. It's a collaborative effort that spans hundreds of kilometres ... and one that puts a lot of pressure on host communities. Guilaine Baril is the chief administrative officer for Kapuskasing. He spoke with CBC Morning North host Markus Schwabe about what it's like to host evacuees from fire-threatened communities. 5:47