Nearly half of the residents of Pikangikum First Nation have been flown out of the northern community, as a 3,300-hectare forest fire continues to burn just a few kilometres away.
The Canadian Armed Forces said Sunday that more than 1,700 Pikangikum residents have left the community, which has a population of about 3,800.
“They’re still making trips,” said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Derek Fox. “There’s still the concern that there’s a threat to the town.”
“If the wind shifts and picks up unfavourably, the town’s at great risk, given they cannot put out the fire,” he said. “The number one priority right now is the lives of the people that are there.”
The Pikangikum residents are being taken to a number of cities in Ontario and Manitoba, including Thunder Bay, which is currently host to 240 people from the community. Evacuees are also being taken to Red Lake, Dryden, Sioux Lookout, Kapuskasing, Cochrane, Timmins and Hearst.
On Sunday, the Canadian Armed Forces conducted five evacuation flights from Pikangikum, bringing 320 residents to Winnipeg using four Hercules aircraft.
The fire itself, known as Red Lake Fire 14, is burning to the south and east of Pikangikum. On Sunday evening, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said the fire was just over 3,300 hectares in size.
“The firefighters are trying to keep the fire under control, and ensure that the community doesn’t get engulfed by flames,” Fox said. “We’re hoping for the best, that they get control of this fire.”
Sixteen fire ranger crews are battling the fire, which is listed as not under control. It was first reported on Wednesday, leading Pikangikum Chief Amanda Sainnawap to declare a state of emergency that night.