Eabametoong First Nation in northern Ontario started evacuating a number of its vulnerable residents Wednesday morning as a result of a number of forest fires that are burning near the community, confirmed the community’s chief.
On Tuesday afternoon, the northern Ontario First Nation declared a state of emergency due to concerns of smoke affecting the health and safety of its residents.
The fires surrounding the community are between 40 and 60 kilometres away, with the biggest one being more than 3,000 hectares, Eabametoong Chief Harvey Yesno told Global News.
According to Yesno, Thunder Bay, Ont., will take in a little more than 200 people from Eabametoong, while Timmins will take in 130.
“We got the schedules of all the other aircrafts — the first one with 37, the next flight with 47 and back and forth like that,” Yesno said.
“Six flights for sure have been confirmed. The sixth flight is going to Timmins, and there’s possibly two others. It really all depends because they’re still doing some evacuation of Red Lake.”
Residents in Red Lake were given an evacuation order on Monday due to a nearby forest fire, which has grown to 750 hectares.
When the fires near Eabametoong started to pick up late Monday, air assets were already being deployed to Red Lake on Tuesday morning, Yesno said.
“We were a little bit concerned about that because we didn’t become a priority anymore,” the chief said, adding that another concern involves leaving the fly-in community in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our overarching concern is the COVID measures. We don’t want that thrown out the window, so to speak,” Yesno said.
“We want to make sure, as best as we can, to minimize contact with other people because we have to go back in the community and we cannot risk having an outbreak.”
On Wednesday, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath urged Premier Doug Ford to take action to support firefighting efforts and to help people evacuate both Eabametoong and Red Lake safely and with COVID-19 protocols in place.
Kenora MP Eric Melillo said on Wednesday that Ontario is working with Yesno and the community’s officials to evacuate vulnerable residents.
“Our office has been in contact with the government to monitor the situation,” Melillo said on Twitter. “My thoughts are with everyone affected.”
Eabametoong First Nation, also known as Fort Hope, is a fly-in community that’s more than 350 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.