Thunder Bay

Evacuations continue as forest fires burn near northwestern Ontario communities

Vulnerable residents from Pikangikum First Nation continue to be transported out of the northern Ontario community as the province battles a nearby forest fire.

18 fires burning in region as of Monday morning: Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry

As wind from the north is helping to keep the fire away from Pikangikum First Nation on Sunday, officials from Environment Canada said more smoke could be drifting into the community on Monday as the wind changes direction. (Ontario Forest Fires/Twitter)

Vulnerable residents from Pikangikum First Nation continue to be transported out of the northern Ontario community as the province battles a nearby forest fire.

Smoke from two nearby fires is prompting the partial evacuation of Pikangikum; the community has also declared a state of emergency.

On Monday morning, Red Lake Fire 14 was listed as being under control at about 3,850 hectares, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF). The fire started on May 29, and continues to burn just east of the community.

However, Red Lake Fire 39, which is about 40,400 hectares in size, is not under control; that fire is located about six kilometres southwest of Pikangikum, on the opposite side of the lake.

This is the second evacuation of Pikangikum due to forest fire activity this year.

Nungesser Road, which provides access to a number of northern communities, including Pikangikum, was also closed Monday, OPP said. The closure comes due to Red Lake Fire 40, which is burning across a stretch of the roadway.

Red Lake Fire 40 is listed at about 23,700 hectares in size, and not under control.

A precautionary evacuation of Keewaywin First Nation, meanwhile, has been completed, with residents being housed in Sioux Lookout and Timmins.

The Keewaywin evacuation is also due to smoke, in this case from Red Lake Fire 23, which is listed at nearly 72,000 hectares in size, and is burning about eight kilometres south of the community. Keewaywin has also declared a state of emergency.

The MNRF said firefighters have been setting up sprinklers around Keewaywin to keep the fire at bay, and helicopters are dropping buckets of water on the blaze.

The two fires are among 18 burning in the region as of Monday morning, the MNRF said.

Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said in a statement Monday morning that there may be a need for more host communities in the coming weeks, as the fires continue to threaten communities in the region, prompting further evacuations.

"There is an urgent need for host communities to provide a safe haven for evacuees during this difficult time," Jones stated. "In partnership with our provincial, First Nations, federal and NGO partners, my ministry is coordinating a contingency plan should we need to proceed with a large-scale evacuation."

"[Sunday], I began reaching out to mayors across the province to ask that their communities host evacuees. We are working with municipalities to find sufficient space to safely house those in need over the coming days and weeks."

On Monday morning, Environment Canada issued a special air quality statement for Pikangikum, Poplar Hill, MacDowell, Sandy Lake, Weagamow Lake, and Deer Lake.

High levels of air pollution due to smoke from forest fires will continue today.

"Smoke plumes are moving over the region from several forest fires located in the Sandy Lake — Pikangikum region," the statement reads. "Winds will become light southwesterly this morning which will direct smoke plumes to the northeast and east. Air quality may deteriorate if the smoke descends to ground level."

Environment Canada said people in the areas may experience increased coughing, throat irritations, headaches, or shortness of breath. Anyone developing symptoms should reduce or reschedule strenuous outdoor activities until air quality improves.