Forest fires are forcing two remote First Nations in Northwestern Ontario to evacuate as much of the northern region of the province is under extreme fire danger, as well as heat and air-quality warnings.
Chief Howard Comber of Poplar Hill First Nation said Sunday that an evacuation was under way and community members were being flown out of the remote community to Thunder Bay and Kapuskasing, Ont.
Meanwhile, Deer Lake First Nation declared a state of emergency over the weekend as a forest fire burned about 30 kilometres away, growing to more than 26,000 hectares since the end of June. Chief Mickie Meekis said vulnerable community members including elders would be evacuated Monday but he was not yet sure where.
The City of Thunder Bay said in a news release Sunday that it was receiving up to 300 evacuees arriving from Poplar Hill, located about 550 kilometres to the northwest, out of the 800 community members fleeing their homes.
“We learned this morning that it was about 10 kilometres out but a fairly active and aggressive fire that was moving fairly quickly,” Thunder Bay Fire Chief Greg Hankkio said in an interview.
The forest fire has been burning about 25 kilometres southwest of Poplar Hill since July 5, according to Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources. As of Sunday, it was 350 hectares and continuing to grow, said Jonathan Scott, a fire information officer with the ministry. It is one of about 70 active forest fires burning in the province’s northern region.
There are close to 100 forest fires burning across Ontario, many of them caused by lightning cells followed by little to no rain, said Mr. Scott. The entire northwest region is under a restricted fire zone, banning all outdoor fires.
Mr. Hankkio said Red Cross and first responders were on site in Thunder Bay to help register evacuees and identify any medical needs and concerns. He said they will work with community liaisons and council members to ensure everyone gets settled in appropriately.
“It’s a fairly traumatic event for them,” he said, adding that he did not know how long the evacuees would be displaced.
The city regularly hosts northern communities, including Kashechewan during its annual spring flood. Last year, however, the city opted not to host the James Bay, Ont., community because of the pandemic.
Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro said in the media release they were advised that there were no recent positive cases from Poplar Hill and that the community has had its vaccine rollout.
Mr. Scott said the number of forest fires reported in Ontario this year has already surpassed last year’s numbers and the 10-year average of 383 fires covering 130,894 hectares with 568 fires reported so far this season covering 161,473 hectares.
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