Forest Fires and Smoke – “Extremely challenging and unprecedented” – Hobbs

Waterbomber in action
Waterbomber in action - photo from MNR Ontario
THUNDER BAY – Forest fires and the resulting smoke are combining with the heatwave to create a emergency situation “This is an extremely challenging and unprecedented circumstance in Thunder Bay’s history as a reception centre for forest fire events,” said Mayor Keith Hobbs, who led a 3 am meeting of the Emergency Operations Control Group today. “We are planning as much as is possible and responding to emerging needs to support our neighbours to the north”.

“We are also calling on the Province and other municipalities in Ontario to open up their communities to accept evacuees in light of this urgent need where people’s lives and health are threatened.”

“I am calling on the Government of Canada to mobilize all available resources, including the Armed Forces, to ensure that enough aircraft are available to evacuate First Nations at a moment’s notice. I am also asking the Province of Ontario to declare a state of emergency so that all necessary resources can be directed to protect the health and safety of the residents of these communities,” added NAN Grand Chief Stan Beardy. “Many remote First Nations under imminent threat from these fires rely completely on air transportation. There is a very real danger that heavy smoke from these fires could prevent aircraft from landing, making it impossible to get people out safely if an evacuation is ordered.”

Waterbomber
photo courtesy MNR Ontario

On Monday, 208 residents of Sandy Lake arrived in Thunder Bay. Another 70 are expected around mid-day today. The Victoria Inn has indicated it has enough hotel rooms to accommodate these evacuees until they are able to safely return home. The about 280 Sandy Lake residents who are remaining in Thunder Bay are under the Incident Command of Director Brian Berringer of Fire Rescue.

In addition to about 280 residents of Sandy Lake First Nation who will call Thunder Bay home for the next week, our city has been identified as a ‘transportation hub’ to receive up to 1,000 additional residents to be evacuated from Northern communities today as forest fires worsen across Northwestern Ontario. A ‘transportation hub’ means that evacuees will come to Thunder Bay, be registered with the Red Cross and transported to other Ontario communities. The Province may look to move up to 5,000 people in the next few days.

NAN is asking northwestern cities and municipalities to continue to assist by providing emergency shelters for as many as 5,000 residents who could be forced to flee their homes this week. Host communities including Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Fort Frances, Dryden, Geraldton and Red Lake have already received or are preparing to receive evacuees.

More than 115 forest fires are currently raging across Northwestern Ontario, placing thousands of residents of NAN communities in immediate danger from growing fires and dense smoke. The threat is expected to reach critical levels over the next few days.

To date, as many as 200 residents of Keewaywin First Nation were evacuated to Winnipeg Monday evening after 197 residents were evacuated Sunday. Eighty residents of Cat Lake First Nation have been evacuated to Dryden and 170 residents of North Spirit Lake First Nation have been evacuated to Greenstone. About 750 residents of Sandy Lake First Nation have been evacuated to Thunder Bay, and 230 residents of Kingfisher Lake First Nation are on standby for evacuation.

“We recognize that the high instance of forest fires in Northern Ontario is putting a tremendous strain on emergency services but we have to ensure that adequate resources are available to evacuate all residents of communities under immediate threat,” said Beardy. “The danger is very real, and we need assurances that Elders, young children and people with respiratory problems will be able to be evacuated before the situation worsens.”

The transportation ‘hub’ is under the Incident Command of Deputy Fire Chief Greg Hankkio. Further details are being worked out on those evacuations.

The local Emergency Operations Control Group coordinating team includes the City of Thunder Bay, Police, Fire & Rescue, Thunder Bay District Health Unit, Superior North EMS and Canadian Red Cross.

Tony Clement, the Minister for FedNor and MP for Parry Sound – Muskoka, will fly to Dryden early tomorrow morning to meet with volunteers, troops and evacuees affected by the wildfires raging in the area. Minister Clement will be joined by the MP for Kenora and Parliamentary Secretary for Aboriginal Affairs, Greg Rickford.

Click here for Latest Fire Map