Evacuations continue as fire threat to Pikangikum First Nation grows

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PIKANGIKUM, Ont. — Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources says a wildfire threatening a remote Indigenous community in the province’s northwest has grown several times larger.

The ministry says the fire near the eastern edge of Pikangikum First Nation grew on Thursday to more than 3,000 hectares — up from 400 hectares earlier in the day.

Two airtankers and up to 12 fire crews have been battling the blaze, which is out of control about 2.5 kilometres from the fly-in community’s airport.

Pikangikum, about 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay with a population of about 2,300, has declared a state of emergency and ordered mass evacuations.

The Royal Canadian Air Force said two Hercules transport planes were moving 250 high-priority residents to safety.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said in a tweet Friday morning that a third plane was on the way.

“Plan today is to evacuate all 1,200 priority/vulnerable members,” Fiddler tweeted. “North wind today so community members can breathe a bit easier.”

Environment Canada has issued a special air quality statement for the Pikangikum area, warning residents could experience symptoms such as coughing, headaches or shortness of breath.

“Children, seniors and those with cardiovascular or lung disease, such as asthma, are especially at risk,” the agency said, adding the northerly winds should help improve conditions.

Fiddler said on Thursday he was “beyond frustration” at the pace of the government’s response to the blaze given the scope and urgency of the situation.

“The minutes are ticking by, the hours are ticking by,” Fiddler said in an interview from Thunder Bay.

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