Thunder Bay at capacity with Sandy Lake evacuees
Forest fire smoke forces about 550 First Nations residents to make Thunder Bay their temporary home
Another 250 evacuees from Sandy Lake are expected to arrive in Thunder Bay Tuesday. The city is hosting people from the remote community who have been forced to leave due to smoke from forest fires in the far north.
The first Dash-8 aircraft was scheduled to arrive just before noon, said Greg Hankkio, Thunder Bay's Deputy Fire Chief. "We're expecting more flights to come in through the course of the day today with additional evacuees," he said.
"We agreed to host … an additional 250 people, most of which will arrive today."
That will bring the number of evacuees relocated from their homes 600 kilometres to the north to about 550. They are staying at two hotels in the city, and efforts have been made to keep families together.
Emergency Management Ontario said the agency is considering transporting 100 Sandy Lake residents to Fort Frances.
The move will depend on a variety of factors, including plane availability and weather conditions.
Spokesperson Brent Ross said the situation is fluid.
"This is a Stage 1 evacuation, involving only the elderly, very young, and those with medical conditions. It is not a general evacuation of the community," he said.
Ross noted EMO is grateful for the work that Thunder Bay has done to accommodate the evacuees.
A Sandy Lake First Nation councillor said residents of the community are being well-treated during their stay in Thunder Bay. Councillor Joe Kakegamic thanked the Thunder Bay community Tuesday on behalf of Sandy Lake chief Bart Meekis.
"The reception has been super," he said. "Our people are being taken care of. It's been great so far."
Kakegamic said most of the same Sandy Lake residents were also forced to travel to Thunder Bay last summer because of forest fires.
"I don't think there's so much stress this time," he said, adding that, this time around, the evacuees "kind of know what to expect."
Sandy Lake resident Leona Fiddler said she's relieved to be away from the smoke. She arrived in Thunder Bay on a flight from the community on Monday, along with her boyfriend and two children.
Fiddler, who is pregnant, said she is concerned about her children and the first nations' elders.
"Most of the elders left because of the smoke and they were getting sick," she said. "And some of them have bad breathing problems [and] medical problems.."
Kakegamic said not everyone is being evacuated from Sandy Lake. He said elders, people with health problems, pregnant women and small children are the priority.
Officials said it’s difficult to determine how long the evacuation might be in place. City officials said they do not anticipate the arrival of additional evacuees and noted Thunder Bay is currently at capacity in terms of its ability to provide care and accommodation.