The first 300 members of the remote Pikangikum First Nation fleeing wildfires in northwestern Ontario are settling into their new Regina accommodations.
“Everything’s good so far,” said Pikangikum resident Dion Quill. He spoke those words outside of the University of Regina dorms he’ll be calling home indefinitely.
“There are lots of nice people around. I like this town. We’re getting to know it a little bit.”
Quill says he left with his “family, clothes, and that’s it.”
The largest fire threatening the nation, dubbed “Red Lake Fire 23”, has swelled to over 926 square kilometres in size according to latest government data.
The “out of control” fire began on June 15. Evacuations began by boat and bus July 8, but halted last Wednesday when accommodations in reach by bus or boat reached capacity.
Later that day an announcement that Saskatchewan would shelter around 2,000 wildfire evacuees was made at the Council of the Federation premiers meetings in Saskatoon. An agreement was put in place between Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Ontario’s Doug Ford.
The government of Saskatchewan and the Canadian Red Cross are handling emergency operations on the ground in Regina.
Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency vice-president Duane McKay said Friday morning that 300 more evacuees were expected to land in Regina in military-chartered aircraft throughout the day. He said 200 more are expected to travel to Saskatoon from Ontario on Saturday as Regina accommodations reach capacity.
Arrangements have been made to house 500 people at the university. They say they’ve also secured at least 150 hotel rooms. Accommodations in Saskatoon will only consist of hotel rooms.
“Our preference is to get people into private accommodations as much possible,” said McKay.
McKay said liaisons from Ontario have been brought in to help facilitate cultural support for the Ojibwa people.
“Culture is a big issue. This is a different cultural group so we wanted to make sure we understood, we’re very sensitive to that.”
He said recreational activities are also being planned. Quill, meanwhile, is looking forward to the time when everything about his life can get back to normal.
“I miss home already.”