Northeastern Ontario communities hosting fire evacuees from northwest

Thousands of residents have had to evacuate their communities due to the worsening wildfire situation in northwestern Ontario. Several communities in the northeast are hosting those evacuees. They arrived in Kapuskasing, Cochrane, Timmins and Sudbury this week.

Kapuskasing, Cochrane, Timmins and Sudbury all hosting evacuees from Poplar Hill, Deer Lake, Pikangikum

Fire crews from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry continue to respond to a fire know as Red Lake 65. Forest fires in northwestern Ontario have forced the evacuation of at least three communities. (@ONForestFires on Twitter)

More than a thousand people have fled their homes due to the worsening wildfire situation in northwestern Ontario. Poplar Hill, Deer Lake and Pikangikum have already seen residents leave due to the threatening conditions. 

They're being flown out to Thunder Bay as well as communities across the northeast such as Kapuskasing, Timmins, Cochrane and Sudbury this week.

A spokesperson for the Solicitor General says Emergency Management Ontario has teamed up with the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry to orchestrate the evacuations. 

Four flights landed carrying 137 evacuees from Poplar Hill First Nation in the Town of Kapuskasing on July 12 and 13, said Guylaine Baril, CAO for the town. 

"This is really near our capacity at the moment," he said, adding that capacity is based on the number of hotel rooms available. Due to COVID-19 protocols, the evacuees are all staying in the same hotel.

Kapuskasing has hosted displaced people before

Hosting evacuees is not new for the Town of Kapuskasing. For the past 20 years the community has hosted evacuees from Kashechewan due to annual spring flooding, They've also hosted evacuees forced out of communities due to wildfires, including Eabametoong First Nation last summer.

"We've had some regulars come to Kap, and then every once in awhile we host a community that we've not hosted before," Baril said. 

This is the first time residents from Poplar Hill have come to Kapuskasing. Many only speak Ojibwe.

"Translation is a little bit of a challenge right now," Baril said. There are some community members from Poplar Hill who speak English, who are helping as translators.

Baril says Kapuskasing coordinates evacuation works with community partners like hotels, restaurants and bus companies.

173 in Cochrane 

Meanwhile, two planes arrived in Cochrane on July 12 with 61 people from Poplar Hill First Nation, said Richard Vallée, director of protective services in Cochrane. A further 112 evacuees from Deer Lake First Nation arrived on July 14. 

"We do have a good structure and a lot of people helping us out so we have lots of agencies that are local," he said.

Cochrane has also hosted other types of evacuees before.

"We welcome them pretty good, and I think they feel comfortable once they're here. We do lots of outreach," Vallée said.

150 in Timmins

150 evacuees from Pikangikum arrived in the City of Timmins Wednesday afternoon. 150 is its capacity, according to Timmins Fire chief and emergency management coordinator Tom Laughren.

He says the evacuees are all elders or families with small children.

"Once we have an idea of that we put plans in place to best serve that demographic."

"We try to make this as great of an experience as we can, knowing that people forced out of their communities is not a holiday for them," Laughren said.

"We try to do the best we can to support the needs and the challenges that go with that." 

Sudbury number unknown

A spokesperson for the Solicitor General confirmed that the City of Greater Sudbury would be hosting evacuees from the northwest, and they were to arrive on July 14. However, neither the city nor the Solicitor General's office would release information on the number of evacuees or the time of their arrival. 

The Province of Ontario declared an emergency order for the northwest on Wednesday, which allows the province to put in place travel restrictions or other protective actions.

As of Wednesday afternoon more than 3,800 square kilometres had been charred by the forest fires in northern Ontario.

People in northwestern Ontario are being evacuated to the northeast to escape wildfires. We heard from two community leaders welcoming evacuees into their area. We were joined by Guylain Baril, the CAO of Kapuskasing and Richard Vallée, the director of protective services in Cochrane. 9:17

With files from Warren Schlote


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