Canadian Rangers are helping to evacuate sick and vulnerable residents from Eabametoong First Nation, a remote Ojibway community threatened by a growing forest fire.
The Rangers, who are part-time army reservists, are members of the First Nation’s local Ranger patrol. Eabametoong is 370 kilometers north of Thunder Bay and has an on-reserve population of almost 1,800. The out of control fire is about 50 kilometers from the remote community.
The Rangers were ordered to provide assistance after the First Nation declared an emergency and asked for help from the provincial government and the Canadian Army.
“We are drawing up passenger manifests,” said Master Corporal Karen Meeseetawageesic, “and assisting vulnerable people onto the evacuation planes.”
Evacuation planes began evacuating residents on Wednesday and continued on Thursday, taking evacuees to Thunder Bay and Timmins.
The priority evacuees include the elderly, the chronically sick, disabled, pregnant women, and mothers with children under five.
Wanda Sugarhead, a band councillor, said she was working with Master Corporal Meeseetawageesic in drawing up passenger manifests. “The Rangers are a lot of help to us in emergencies,” she said, “and they are in this one.”
She said smoke from the fire was less severe on Thursday but could easily get worse if the wind changes direction and the fire gets closer.
The Rangers helped passengers with their baggage and wheelchairs. The evacuation planes have 30 seats and several hundred people have been evacuated in two days with more scheduled to fly out of the community on Friday.
Several Rangers have been on full-time duty in Eabametoong to assist the chief and council in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. “That was extremely valuable in enabling the good passage of information and rapid support for the community in a rapidly progressing situation,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Shane McArthur, the army officer who commands the Rangers in the Far North of Ontario. “We are prepared to increase our support if it becomes necessary. The Rangers continue to have a positive impact in their community and reflect well on the Canadian Armed Forces.”