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Northwestern Ontario First Nation declares emergency after 5 fire deaths

A house fire took five lives May 2 in Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, a First Nation about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont.
A house fire took five lives May 2 in Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, a First Nation about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont. Courtesy Independent First Nations Alliance

BIG TROUT LAKE, Ont. – A remote Indigenous community in northern Ontario where five people died in a house fire last week is so overwhelmed with grief that it has declared an emergency.

The blaze on May 2 killed a foster mother, her biological daughter and three children she was raising at the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, also known as Big Trout Lake.

READ MORE: 5 dead after house fire in northwestern Ontario First Nation

“This tragedy is having a devastating impact on the entire community, with continuing effects that require external support and financial assistance,” Chief Donny Morris said in a release Thursday.

“We are feeling the crushing weight of this tragedy in our community and with our people.”

Morris said many young people are suffering from mental trauma, including some who are talking about suicide.

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READ MORE: Officials still examining house fire that killed 5 in northwestern Ontario First Nation

The community doesn’t have the resources to handle the demand for mental health care, he said, noting they don’t have enough staff to provide people with the help they need.

“There are too many people to watch and not enough manpower to watch them,” he said.

Morris said other First Nations have been helping, but more assistance is needed.

He said the community has been in contact with federal and provincial government representatives.

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau appearance interrupted by protester from Grassy Narrows First Nation

Morris said the responders, supporters and family members coming into the community need food, shelter and stress relief.

The fire killed Geraldine Chapman, 47, her six-year-old biological daughter Shyra Chapman and three foster children – seven-year-old Hailey Chapman, nine-year-old Karl Cutfeet and 12-year-old Angel McKay.

The community is about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont.

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