Thunder Bay

Nishnawbe Aski Nation again urges Premier Ford to declare state of emergency amid wildfire evacuations

A political organization representing 49 northern Ontario First Nations again calls on the province to declare a state of emergency, and for Premier Doug Ford to have feet on the ground in the northwest.

Over 2,500 forced to leave their First Nations in Ontario's northwest

Forest fires in northwestern Ontario have led to calls for the province to declare a state of emergency. (Submitted by Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources, and Forestry )

A political organization representing 49 northern Ontario First Nations is again calling on the province to declare a state of emergency, and for Premier Doug Ford to have feet on the ground in the northwest.

The call to level up the provincial response comes as the active forest fire count breaks new records, and two more First Nations, Cat Lake and North Spirit Lake First Nations, begin smoke-related evacuations.

"We still have not seen a plan from the province," said Alvin Fiddler, Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) grand chief, in an interview with CBC News.

Fiddler said declaring a state of emergency would allow for "better management and expedited access" of resources, along with "bypassing some of the bureaucratic processes and red tape" that is in the way now.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler wants calls the wildfire situation in the northwest a 'crisis.' (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

In the last week, five First Nations within NAN territory have begun partial or community-wide evacuations. As of Wednesday, over 2,500 people from the five remote communities have been displaced due to smoke coverage and direct threats from forest fires.

Since then, individual First Nations leaders have expressed concerns over a lack of widespread resources to support evacuees and effectively carry out evacuations.

Fiddler said there's growing frustration among leaders, who feel their voices are not being heard, prompting a call for Ford to come to northwestern Ontario to see the impact of the forest fires first hand.

"Last week when the tornado touched down in Barrie, he was there the next day or a couple of days later — meeting with families and community, and making sure that things are OK and that people need help, that the provinces are there to provide that help," said Fiddler. "That's something we don't see up here.

"That's why we reached out to the province yesterday [Monday], that you need to be up here," he added.

CBC News asked the premier's office if there are any plans for Ford to visit the northwest following NAN's request.

In a written response, spokesperson Christine Wood said Ford continues to make sure the province supports northern Ontario as it battles "devastating" wildfires.

"This is a very active situation, and our priority right now is ensuring the emergency crews and first responders can do their crucial work without distraction and focus on getting residents to safety," she said.

Premier Doug Ford toured the area devastated by a tornado in Barrie, Ont., saying the province will help affected residents in whatever way it can. Leaders in the northwest say he should be in their region to see the devastation from forest fires first hand. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Emergency order in effect

While a state of emergency has yet to be declared in the province, one government ministry has issued an emergency order in the northwest, allowing for "special measures to ensure the safety of people and the protection of critical property".

Implementation of the order took place two days after NAN's first call for the declaration of a provincewide state of emergency.

Since then, the province has implemented measures aimed at reducing the likelihood of human-caused fires.

In a statement on July 14, the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry (MNDMNRF) said the current order allows the ministry to protect public safety given active fire and fire suppression activity, and facilitate effective fire suppression as well as evacuation efforts.

Residents from Deer Lake First Nation wait for a plane to take them to southern Ontario last week. he community was evacuated due to forest fire activity, along with Poplar Hill First Nation. Pikangikum, Cat Lake, and North Spirit Lake First Nations have also started evacuations. (Breanne Meekis)

The ministry spokesperson said the province only declares a state of emergency when a situation requires immediate action to prevent, reduce or mitigate a danger of "major proportions" that could result in serious harm to people or substantial damage to property.

The declaration also has to meet the criteria of:

  • At least one circumstance in which resources normally available to a ministry or branch of government cannot be relied upon without the risk of serious delay.
  • If resources may be insignificant to effectively address the emergency.
  • If it's not possible, without risk of delay, to determine whether or not resources can be relied upon.

With files from Logan Turner