Ontario evacuation on hold as wildfires shrink

Evacuations have been paused from wildfires in the northwestern Ontario community of Pikangikum First Nation. (Pikangikum Community Evacuation/Facebook)

Evacuees from wildfires in a northwestern Ontario community are not currently expected in Prince Albert as conditions improve.

Roughly 420 people from the Pikangikum First Nation area arrived at the University of Regina late last week, where they continue to stay. Some are staying in hotel rooms for health reasons.

If they needed more space for the evacuees, the plan was to house them in Saskatoon and then in Prince Albert; however, this is not necessary at this time.

According to Duane McKay, vice president of the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, the wildfires have significantly reduced, pausing the evacuation.

“We have not received any evacuees over the weekend. We are working to make sure that these evacuees are looked after; that any issues that have arisen are dealt with fairly rapidly,” he said.

Because of the stress on the evacuees moving from their remote community to an urban centre, McKay said it’s cause them to do things they wouldn’t normally do.

He said there’s been damage to things like carpet and bedding in the dorms, but no major destruction. He said this is fairly normal.

Additionally, three men—all wildfire evacuees—were arrested over the weekend, according to a Regina Police Service news release. Two of the suspects, ages 19 and 22, were charged with assault causing bodily harm. The other, 29, was charged with aggravated assault and disobeying a court order.

McKay added the fights were amongst the evacuees.

“They’re in a very strange environment,” he said. “One individual had mentioned to me this is the most foreign place that he’s ever been.”

Emergency Social Services provincial coordinator, Deanna Valentine, echoed his message.

“(It’s) a bit of a culture shock in fact. We have a number of people staying with us who don’t speak English, so that’s been tough on people and they are understandably anxious to go home.”

Authorities in their home community have sent out staff to translate, as most of the evacuees speak Ojibwe. Those assisting in Saskatchewan include the Prince Albert Grand Council, the Saskatoon, Yorkton and File Hills tribal councils, the Regina Police Service, the University of Regina and the City of Regina.

“We have a deep appreciation for the level of effort that we’ve seen,” said McKay.

Valentine said there are a number of activities set up at the university to make the evacuees feel more comfortable, including gym and pool time, outdoor sports courts, lawn games, TV and colouring.

They also made trips to Walmart and the Salvation Army on Monday.

McKay and Valentine said there’s no date set for when the evacuees will be able to return home, although they are planning for the evacuees’ departure.