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Pikangikum First Nation House Fire Kills Multiple People, Police Say

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Nine people are believed to have died in a house fire on Pikangikum First Nation, says the member of Parliament for the riding that includes the northwestern Ontario community.

"We're being told nine, including three kids — that's what I was told this morning," Robert Nault said in an interview from Ottawa.

All are believed to be members of the same family, Nault said.

"There's a tremendous loss and overwhelming grief that all of us are feeling."

Ontario Provincial Police Const. Diana Cole said the fire broke out late Tuesday night in the remote community near the Manitoba-Ontario border that's been plagued by suicides.

The cause of the fire is under investigation and police remain on the scene of the blaze, Cole said.

Joeseph Magnet, a constitutional law professor at the University of Ottawa who has worked with Pikangikum in the past, said he has been in all the houses in the community of about 2,100.

"They're all wildly overcrowded," Magnet said. "They're in outrageous disrepair. They don't have indoor plumbing, they don't have adequate water. They wouldn't meet anybody's fire code regulations."

Nault, who noted that everyone in the community is closely related, said discussions were ongoing about sending in a team to help the community deal with "the whole issue of mourning."

'Tremendous loss'

"It affects everyone in the community whenever there's a tragedy like this or a suicide," he said.

"This is a community that's had a history of suicides ... and tragic situations, so this community has been in a constant crisis for a number of years."

Alvin Fiddler, Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, said he spoke with Pikangikum Chief Dean Owen on Wednesday and he sounded exhausted.

"The shock of losing so many people in one tragic event is overwhelming," he said. "There's a tremendous loss and overwhelming grief that all of us are feeling."

Fiddler described Pikangikum as "ground zero" when it comes to infrastructure requirements such as housing, access to clean drinking water or the capacity to fight fires.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who was attending the funeral for former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, took to Twitter to offer her condolences to the community.

"My thoughts are with the First Nations community of #Pikangikum and those who lost loved ones in last night's devastating house fire," Wynne tweeted.

Nault said he would be meeting Thursday with two health ministers to discuss what he called "the crisis in the North."

"Not specifically about this incident, but obviously to talk about mental health, health-care delivery, the suicides," he said. "Pikangikum has the largest suicide rate of any community in the western world ... I think over 400 in the last couple of decades."

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