Thunder Bay

Eabametoong chief anxious to start evacuations due to forest fires

The chief of Eabametoong First Nation says he’s anxiously awaiting word on when vulnerable community members can start evacuating the First Nation.
Harvey Yesno is chief of Eabametoong First Nation in Ontario. (Dave McSporran/Bottled Media)

The chief of Eabametoong First Nation says he's anxiously awaiting word on when vulnerable community members can start evacuating the First Nation.

Several forest fires are burning near the community, and at times, those fires are filling the air with smoke and ash, Chief Harvey Yesno said on Tuesday.

Resources are currently tied up with a forest fire threatening the community of Red Lake, Yesno said, and he doesn't like waiting for them.

"We would like to move those people even now because there's just little extra challenges dealing with the disabled or people who are on home dialysis or other things like that," he said.

Yesno and his council passed a resolution Tuesday afternoon formally declaring a forest fire and smoke emergency.

Thunder Bay committed Tuesday evening to hosting 300 evacuees from the community, Yesno said, and Timmins committed to hosting 100 – but he had yet to learn of a timeline for evacuations.

"We're having a hard time getting updates from (the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry)," he said. "We're waiting till (Wednesday) to have somebody on the ground who will be a liaison from the Nipigon district so we're a little concerned about that. I was a little disappointed this morning's call that it sounded like we were not really a priority."

Yesno worries about evacuating vulnerable members of his community due to the threat of COVID-19, he said, but he needs to weigh that risk against the threat posed by the fires.

He is concerned, he said, that members of his COVID-19 team will get disconnected from community members during an evacuation.

"I've asked our nurses to accompany the most vulnerable, and right now, the federal government is saying, 'No. The host community will provide all that,'" he said. "Well I'm concerned that we're going to depend on somebody that's going to be deployed… whether we get the service or not."

Some community members have said they will not evacuate the community due to concerns about the pandemic, he added.

Yesno said he is also worried about keeping quarantined community members away from others during an evacuation.