Thunder Bay

Pikangikum evacuees returning home as firefighters make progress on wildfire near community

Forest firefighting crews are making progress on a large blaze that's caused the evacuation of a northwestern Ontario First Nation.

3,800-hectare fire now being held, ministry says, still not under control

Pikangikum First Nation members arrive in Winnipeg earlier this month. The community has been evacuated due to a forest fire burning nearby. On Sunday, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said the fire is currently being held. (Submitted by Darryl Hepner)

Pikangikum First Nation residents are returning home as Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) fire crews continue to make progress on a large blaze that caused the evacuation of the remote, fly-in First Nation.

Red Lake Fire 14 is burning just a few kilometres from Pikangikum.

And while the fire's size has remained largely the same since it broke out nearly two weeks ago, as of late Sunday, the 3,800-hectare blaze was listed as being held, the ministry said.

A number of communities in northwestern Ontario are hosting residents of Pikangikum First Nation, which was evacuated due to forest fires burning nearby. Some residents began returning home on Monday. (CBC)

Significant rainfall in the area over the weekend has aided firefighting efforts, and crews have begun to remove sprinklers from buildings, homes and other infrastructure.

There are 24 crews working on the fire, and they continue to identify and extinguish hot spots, the MNRF said.

Pikangikum is home to about 3,800 people. Evacuations have taken place over the last several days, with residents of the community being hosted in a number of other cities, including Thunder Bay.

Some returning home

Thunder Bay Deputy Fire Chief Greg Hankkio said Pikangikum Chief Amanda Sainnawap has given the OK for some residents to start returning home.

Those hosted in Winnipeg began flying back on Monday, while Sainnawap said anyone who left Pikangikum on their own can return to the community, as well.

Hankkio said there are just over 400 Pikangikum residents in Thunder Bay. Of those, about 80 left on their own, and are clear to return.

The rest were flown out as part of the official, provincially-coordinated evacuations. They will remain in Thunder Bay for a bit longer.

"The people that have been out the longest will return to their community first," Hankkio said. "Thunder Bay was one of the last communities to receive evacuees, so right now we're anticipating sometime early next week that our guests will be returning to their community."