Thunder Bay

$1.2-million price tag for wildfire evacuations of First Nations in Ontario over last five years

According to numbers obtained from Indigenous Services Canada, the cost of evacuating First Nations as a result of wildfires has been over $1.2-million between 2013 and 2018. That number is not including the costs of evacuating Pikangikum First Nation two times and Keewaywin First Nation once this year.

People from five First Nations communities forced to flee homes due to wildfire concerns between 2013 and 2018

The cost of evacuating Nibinamik Inlet First Nation in August 2017 was more than $823,000. (Submitted by JJ Whitmell)

People in northern Ontario - and especially First Nations communities - are increasingly having their safety and well-being threatened by wildfires.

According to numbers obtained by CBC News from Indigenous Services Canada, the cost of evacuating First Nations in Ontario as a result of wildfires has been over $1.2-million between 2013 and 2018. That number is not including the costs of evacuating Pikangikum First Nation twice, and Keewaywin First Nation once this year.

Between 2013 and 2018, people from five First Nations in Ontario were evacuated for anywhere from one to 17 days. The number of people forced to leave their homes as a result of wildfires ranged from one family to 235 residents.

The First Nations that had to be evacuated include Wawakapewin, Nibinamik, Mattagami, Wabaseemoong and Henvey Inlet First Nations.

The full breakdown of the evacuations and resulting costs are below:

  • Wawakapewin First Nation - seven residents evacuated for seven days in June 2013
    •  Total cost: $0
  • Nibinamik First Nation - 235 residents evacuated for 10 days in August 2017
    • Total cost: $823,026
  • Mattagami First Nation - one family evacuated for one night in July 2018
    • Total cost: $507.28
  • Wabaseemong Independent First Nations - 80 residents evacuated for 12 days in July 2018
    • Total cost: $35,821
  • Henvey Inlet First Nation - 200 residents evacuated for 17 days in July 2018
    • Total cost: $378,510

Indigenous Services Canada's emergency management assistance program reimburses provinces, territories, First Nations and third-party emergency management providers for all eligible response and recovery costs, including those related to evacuations.

This information comes at a time when wildfire experts from across the country are warning that climate change is leading to significant changes in the wildfire season. Experts have said that the wildfire season is becoming longer, less predictable and will increasingly threaten communities and vital infrastructure in Ontario's far north.

The cost of the evacuations of First Nations in Ontario for 2019 has yet to be calculated.

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