Thunder Bay

Evacuations continue on Sunday in Pikangikum First Nation as forest fire grows

Evacuations of Pikangikum First Nation in northwestern Ontario continued well into the evening on Saturday, according to Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand Chief Derek Fox, as Red Lake Fire 14 continues to threaten the fly-in community.

Over 200 more residents were moved out of the community on Saturday evening around 9 p.m.

Officials from the Thunder Bay Fire Rescue helped evacuees from Pikangikum First Nation as they arrived to the northwestern Ontario community on Thursday at around 5 p.m. (Christina Jung/CBC)

Evacuations of Pikangikum First Nation in northwestern Ontario continued well into the evening on Saturday, according to Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand Chief Derek Fox, with more than 200 more people flown out at around 9 p.m.

Red Lake Fire 14, now covering 3,600 hectares, continues to threaten the fly-in community with smoke a problem for many residents.

"We had about 253 evacuees leave Pikangikum to Sioux Lookout and various host communities, and I know that it's possible two more planes were supposed to leave last night, but if not last night, this morning," Fox told CBC News on Sunday morning.

He said he's not certain exactly how many people have left the community already, but evacuations are expected to continue throughout the day on Sunday.

"People have been leaving through the Taxi Bay route, so there's self-evacuated people also .... so we can only go by the plane loads and they've had well over 1,000 now, but it's really tough to say," he added. "I don't even know if they are half way there yet."

Taxi Bay is a landing about 30 minutes by boat from Pikangikum and from there, residents can get onto an all-access road and reach Red Lake.

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces help people of Pikangikum First Nation in Northern Ontario leave by plane, as part of operation LENTUS on May 30, 2019. (LS Dan Bard / Submitted)

Red Lake Fire 14, which started on Wednesday afternoon at only 12 hectares, quickly grew in size and is now burning east of the community.

Pikangikum Chief Amanda Sainnawap declared a state of emergency on Wednesday night as the fire continued to grow and residents started to be affected by smoke.

"It was starting to get really smoky ... and the skies were red and we couldn't see any stars," said a mother of two young children who arrived in Thunder Bay on Thursday evening. "I was concerned for the children's safety."

Fox said winds from the northwest on Sunday are helping to keep the fire away from the community and he hopes all the remaining people will be able to leave on Sunday as residents who are still in Pikangikum have been "sitting in smoke for four to five days now."

Forest fire gets closer to Pikangikum First Nation. (Trav G Peters/Facebook)

"It's not just the fire, but it's the smoke inhalation. We don't know what kind of effects that's having on the people who are there and having to breath that in every single day."

Evacuation and response to fire 'too slow'

"The government were slow to respond on the first day .... but it's only June, and what's to say that there's not going to be more forest fires, so I think there needs to be a emergency centre ... for not just this summer, but the coming summers in the future because this response was not as fast as any one wanted ... It's been too slow," he said.

"It's still risking the safety of our people."

Fox said he hasn't had the opportunity to speak directly to any evacuees, but he has been co-ordinating with Chief Sainnawap, "about two, three times a day" to get frequent updates on the situation.

The fly-in community of Pikangikum First Nation is located approximately 500 km northwest of Thunder Bay. A forest fire that started 5 km away was confirmed on Wednesday night and Chief Amanda Sainnawap has declared a state of emergency. (CBC)

He's hoping Sunday will be the last day of evacuations and all residents will be out of the community by the end of the day.

"We're been hoping for that everyday, so let's just hope for the best that they'll be out of there."