Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay expects 'upwards of 450' evacuees from Red Lake Ont.

Thunder Bay officials announced Tuesday upwards of 450 evacuees from Red Lake Ont., would be making their way to the city to seek shelter.

City of Thunder Bay says low COVID numbers, sufficient resources make it possible to host

The city of Thunder Bay began preparing on Tuesday for over 400 forest fire evacuees to arrive from Red Lake Ont. (Submitted by Sol Mamakwa)

Thunder Bay officials announced Tuesday upwards of 450 evacuees from Red Lake Ont., would be making their way to the city to seek shelter.

Residents from Red Lake were ordered to begin evacuating their community, which is about 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, on Monday night due to a large forest fire burning south of the town.

"I have talked with the Mayor of Red Lake and indicated our willingness to support the Red Lake evacuees," said Mayor Bill Mauro in a statement on Tuesday. "I have also confirmed with our three emergency services that at this time they have the capacity to meet the needs of hosting evacuees."

In April, city officials said the city of Thunder Bay would be unable to host evacuees from northern communities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Acting Fire Chief Greg Hankkio said the city's response to evacuees has since changed, largely due to the resources currently available within the city and the low number of COVID-19 cases within the district area.

"As a result of the low numbers of COVID-19 that we're experiencing, it hasn't had the potential negative impact on our emergency services that we thought it may have, if the virus was more widespread in Thunder Bay," said Hankkio in an interview with CBC.

The City of Thunder Bay hosted about 1,000 evacuees from Pikangikum First Nation last summer, after they were forced to leave their homes due to forest fires. The city originally told the province in April that it would not host any evacuees from northern communities this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Christina Jung/CBC)

Hankkio explained that the Municipal Emergency Control Group continuously "re-evaluated" the possibility of hosting evacuees in recent months, in consultation with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit.

Evacuees from Red Lake will need to abide by health and safety measures already implemented within Thunder Bay, such as the mandatory mask policy in indoor public spaces and where physically distancing is not possible, he said.

"We'll screen our guests when they arrive in the municipality and we'll take all the reasonable precautions in order to keep COVID-19 in front and center as we support this evacuation," said Hankkio.

This is the first instance of the city being asked by the province to host evacuees since the pandemic was declared in March, according to Hankkio. He said the official request came in around 7:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Currently there are three active cases of COVID-19 in Thunder Bay, and the Thunder Bay District Health Unit's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Janet DeMille has confirmed there are currently no active COVID-19 cases among Red Lake residents.