NEWS
07/20/2011 08:57 EDT | Updated 09/19/2011 05:12 EDT

Northwestern Ontario Fires Force Thousands To Flee

CP

CBC -- Forest fires in northwestern Ontario have already forced more than 2,000 people out of their communities and the evacuation effort of more than a thousand others is still underway, the province's Ministry of Natural Resources says.

Thunder Bay, Ont., is serving as a transportation hub for the people fleeing remote First Nation communities due to fire and smoke. From there, most evacuees are being moved to other Ontario communities, including Wawa, Sudbury, Sioux Lookout, Kapuskasing, Matachewan and Greenstone. Some of the evacuees are being housed in Winnipeg, and others will be sent as far south as Ottawa.

Ministry spokeswoman Michelle Nowak said Wednesday's plan was to airlift an additional 1,200 residents from Sandy Lake, 265 out of Kingfisher and 150 out of Wunnumin Lake.

More than 100 forest fires are burning in northwestern Ontario, causing smoke to billow across a broad swath of the province's north.

The ministry said Wednesday the fires cover over 300,000 hectares.

On Tuesday, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Stan Beardy called for the mobilization of more resources and planes to help the evacuation effort.

Beardy said he's growing increasingly concerned that many more people will be trapped in their communities as the fires spread.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo and AFN Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse have also called for more support.

"This situation demonstrates the difficulties associated with being a First Nation citizen and living in a remote location," Toulouse said Wednesday in a statement.

"What is needed right now is appropriate financial resourcing, for emergency assistance, by the province and the federal government that takes into account the realities and extraordinary challenges of living in the north. This is in addition to a swift response for calls to evacuate citizens."

Carolyn Bennett, the Liberal critic for aboriginal affairs, said the government isn't doing enough to help.

"There's not a car in every driveway up there and you need an evacuation plan around fire, particularly right now," she said.

She said the government should adopt a more permanent strategy to deal with forest fires.

CBC reporter Jody Porter said there are at least 300 evacuees in Thunder Bay, including lots of mothers with young children.

Joseph Kakegamic was one of the lucky ones, riding with his family on a Hercules aircraft from his home near Sandy Lake to Thunder Bay.

"It's a big plane, the Hercules, there was quite a few people in there, plus luggage. It was jam-packed in there."

The fires show no signs of stopping. Flames up to 45 metres above the trees have been seen, and the flames are racing through the woods at up to five km/h.

There is some rain in the forecast, but not enough to dampen the flames, and lightning could spark more fires.