Dozens from Fort Albany evacuated to Kashechewan, which now wants to evacuate elders and kids away from smoke.
A fly-in First Nation on Ontario’s James Bay Coast was forced to quickly evacuate Wednesday afternoon with a fast-spreading forest fire less than two kilometres away.
What started as a small wildfire around noon was whipped up by the wind and within hours had people in Fort Albany watching walls of flame move swiftly toward their isolated community of 700.
“We’re declaring a state of emergency and we’re going to be evacuating starting right now,” Fort Albany Chief Elizabeth Kataquapit said in a Facebook video post.
“So get ready. Get your kids ready. Keep them in the home and pack everything, whatever you need while we go and figure everything out.”
By Wednesday night, she was urging people to get onto evacuation planes bound for Moosonee.
Dozens of other people were picked up by boats that crossed the Albany River from the neighbouring community of Kashechewan.
“The priority is that we need to move these people out of their community,” said Chief Gaius Wesley, urging people from Kashechewan to get in their boats and head over to Fort Albany, while promising to provide them with fuel.
Several dozen evacuees from Fort Albany spent the night on cots in the high school gymnasium in Kashechewan.
Wesley says starting Thursday morning, he wants to evacuate children and elders from Kashechewan to get away from the heavy smoke, after hearing reports of lung problems in his community.
But he is asking the federal government to provide extra airplanes, so they don’t take away from ongoing evacuation plans for Fort Albany.
“It’s a very concerning time. It’s very scary. Let’s not take this lightly. We need to prepare ourselves,” Wesley said.
“Let’s continue praying for the community of Fort Albany and their leadership.”
This comes just a few months after both Cree communities were evacuated out of fear of spring flooding.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry says the 300-hectare fire near Fort Albany is being fought with water bombers and helicopters, rapidly increased in “intensity” on Wednesday and is still not under control.
There are 23 active wildfires in the northeast, including one that has so far scorched over 11,000 hectares of bush near Lake Abitibi.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org
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