Canadian Rangers working long hours in Pikangikum fire evacuation

Some of the Canadian Rangers and Ontario Provincial Police officers assisting the evacuation of Pikangikum.
Some of the Canadian Rangers and Ontario Provincial Police officers assisting the evacuation of Pikangikum.

PIKANGIKUM – The Canadian Rangers of Pikangikum First Nation are receiving accolades for their role in helping their remote Northern Ontario community evacuate as it is threatened by a major forest fire.

They are receiving praise on social media. Pikangikum Chief Amanda Sainnawap wrote ‘Pikangikum Rangers are absolutely amazing” alongside a photograph of a small group at the community’s airport. Other media users write comments like “Great job Rangers” and “Rangers are doing an awesome job.”

“That the Rangers in Pikangikum are from a patrol we just opened in February to be responding to their community crisis with such efficiency is outstanding, “ said Major Charles Ohlke, the Canadian Army officer commanding the Canadian Rangers in Northern Ontario.

Pikangikum, which is an Ojibway fly-in community, has an on-reserve population of 3,800 and is about 510 kilometers northwest of Thunder Bay. It declared an emergency after the forest fire got to two kilometers from the community. Military and civilian aircraft began evacuating residents on Thursday.

Millitary aircraft are currently flying most of the evacuees to Sioux Lookout where civilian aircraft are picking them up and flying them to host communities where they are lodged and fed.

“We now have a small contingent of Rangers who are assisting in Sioux Lookout,” Major Ohkle said. “They are helping off load evacuees from the RCAF Hercules and reloading them onto the (smaller) civilian aircraft.”

The Rangers in Sioux Lookout are from Lac Seul and Mishkeegogamang First Nations.

The Pikangikum Ranger patrol held its first graduation parade in February with 34 graduates. They are part-time army reservists and have had only basic training.

“They are doing a fantastic job,” said Warrant Officer Dan Stortz, one of two Canadian Army instructors who flew to Pikangikum to assist the Rangers. “With the evacuation flights leaving so close together we’re only able to grab a quick snack when we can. Hopefully, when we get a bit of a better rhythm here we’ll be able to get a bit better rest tonight. 

“For the last few days we’ve been working from 6.30 in the morning to 10 or 11 o’clock at night. The Rangers’ morale is pretty good. They’re all chipper and so happy to be helping their community” 

The Rangers are preparing aircraft passenger manifests, getting evacuees onto school buses to take them to the airport, and getting the evacuees and their baggage onto the aircraft. They are also providing food and water.

Sergeant Buster Kurahara, a former band councillor and police officer, is the newly promoted commander of the Pikangikum Rangers.

“I’m honoured, along with my Rangers, to serve my community,” he said. “My Rangers are absolutely amazing and totally committed to their community. We’re still learning but we are doing the best we can to support our people. Our main goal is to get our people to safety.”

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Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group. Canadian Rangers are army reservists who provide a military presence in Canada's remote and isolated regions, including Northern Ontario. They provide skilled assistance in emergencies such as searches, plane crashes, forest fires, and floods. They also operate the Junior Canadian Rangers, a youth programme for boys and girls aged 12 to 18.