Evacuations continue in Pikangikum First Nation as a wildfire continues to threaten the northern Ontario community.
The military says in a release Saturday that the number of evacuees cannot be confirmed due to the “fluid nature of the situation,” but on Friday it said that 580 people had been evacuated.
The statement said Friday’s evacuees were transported by three Hercules aircraft during six flights to surrounding communities including Sioux Lookout and Kapuskasing.
The military said those evacuation efforts would continue Saturday, with one flight en route to Sioux Lookout and the second airlift inbound to Pikangikum as of noon.
The Ministry of Natural Resources says the blaze has grown to an estimated 3,618 hectares near the fly-in community 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay.
Ministry spokesman Chris Marchand said the fire began on Wednesday and it is not yet under control, but winds looked favourable Saturday for crews battling the blaze. He said the winds were moderate and were blowing away from the community.
The community’s chief posted on Facebook late Friday night that 869 people have been evacuated, and officials are hoping to transport 500 to 700 people to safety per day.
“We are urging residents to keep safe and help each other as the community deals with this dangerous situation. Our first priority is to deal with and evacuate high-risk populations which include elders, children and families,” Chief Amanda Sainnawap wrote.
Sainnawap also warned residents that while roads remain open, smoke from the fire has led to reduced visibility.
Alvin Fiddler, grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nation communities across northern Ontario, has said the forest fire has damaged the broadband communications line running through the area, knocking out phone and internet service.
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Environment Canada has issued a special air quality statement for the Pikangikum area, warning that high levels of air pollution are possible because of smoke from the fire.
The weather agency said Saturday morning that winds had shifted to a northerly direction, causing smoke to affect communities south of Pikangikum, including the town of Red Lake.
“Children, seniors and those with cardiovascular or lung disease, such as asthma, are especially at risk,” the agency said.
-With files from Michelle McQuigge