Ontario forest firefighters push blaze away from Pikangikum First Nation as hundreds evacuated

Fire crews in northern Ontario are focusing on the western flank of a 3,000-hectare blaze that has caused a state of emergency on Pikangikum First Nation, wildfire officials say as evacuations of hundreds from the community continued Friday. 

Red Lake 14 remained classified as not under control Friday morning. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said the fire remained near the First Nation’s eastern boundary, and about two kilometres from its airport.

The ministry said a pair of CL-415 air tankers and up to a dozen fire ranger crews were dispatched to the fire’s western edge to prevent it from advancing toward the community.

The fire hazard in the Red Lake district, which includes Pikangikum, was high on Friday.

About 3,800 people live in Pikangikum, which is about 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay.

Red Lake 14 was about 3,000 hectares in size Friday morning and still burning about two kilometres away from Pikangikum. (Trav G Peters/Facebook)

Sioux Lookout issues emergency declaration

Evacuations were scheduled to continue on Friday, with the goal of transporting Pikangikum’s most vulnerable residents out of danger.

The Canadian Armed Forces said the provincial officials requested 250 evacuees be transported out of the community on Thursday. The military deployed two Hercules aircraft, with the first landing late in the afternoon after taking off from CFB Trenton earlier that day.

Local officials say the community has over 1,200 people who need to be evacuated quickly, including the elderly, pregnant women, children and people who are sick.

The Canadian Rangers in Pikangikum were also credited with their work on the ground by community leaders and the military for their part in helping with the evacuations.

Pikangikum First Nation and Armed Forces officials credit Canadian Rangers in the community as being instrumental in evacuation efforts. (Pikangikum First Nation/Facebook)

Provincial emergency management officials said more flights out of Pikangikum were expected Friday, with evacuees slated to be taken to Sioux Lookout. The community declared a state of emergency Thursday evening to help it prepare for its role, firstly as a hub, then, if necessary, as a host.

In a written release, municipal officials said they expect to receive all evacuees from Friday through Saturday, with the community acting as a sort of staging ground, before people are flown to other northern Ontario communities where they will stay for the duration of the evacuation.

The community said it would also act as a host if required.

The province has said that, aside from Thunder Bay and Sioux Lookout, other host communities could include:

  • Dryden.
  • Cochrane.
  • Kapuskasing.
  • Timmins.
  • Hearst.

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