Officials in Red Lake Ont., are urging remaining residents to leave the community as a forest fire continues to threaten the northwestern Ontario town.
Since Tuesday evening, the fire has grown less than 100 hectares. However, due to a change in wind patterns, the fire is now burning just two kilometres outside of the town.
Fred Mota, mayor of Red Lake, said the fire is burning at approximately a quarter of a kilometre an hour, and “is heading directly towards the community.”
Mota said the main objective now is to ensure remaining residents in the community safely get to one of multiple host communities in the region.
About 500 residents remain in community
“There are some stubborn people in the community but we have municipal representation going door knocking to urge residents to leave,” said Mota in an interview with CBC.
As of Wednesday afternoon, approximately 3,800 people had left the community, and about 500 remained, Mota said.
On Tuesday, the City of Thunder Bay committed to hosting 400 to 450 evacuees from Red Lake, but as of Wednesday morning, only about 54 had arrived in the city. Other host communities in the region include Dryden and Kenora.
Members of the Red Lake and Ear Fall Ontario Provincial Police detachments issued a statement Wednesday evening, echoing Mota’s concern for residents who remain in the community. Officers also indicated reports have been made of community members returning to the Red Lake area to “retrieve property” or to “protect” property.
“Frontline workers are collaborating to keep the community safe,” reads the release from OPP. “Residents can do their part by following the recommendations which allows for frontline workers to focus on their tasks.”
Mota said an airplane that can transport up to 115 people per trip to Thunder Bay is on standby in the community. As of Wednesday afternoon, Highway 105, a main roadway in Red Lake was still accessible.
As of Wednesday evening, municipal officials are asking Red Lake residents to call 211 for assistance, to register as an evacuee, or to notify officials if they are unable to leave the area.
Fire crews prepare to protect property, ‘cultural value sites’
As the fire inches closer to Red Lake, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) said at least four crews are actively working on property and structural protection.
Ministry officials said crews are “assessing structures and cultural value sites” and are setting up sprinklers in the community as required.
As of Wednesday afternoon, six water bombers, twelve helicopters and more than 20 ground crews were actively working on battling the blaze, according to Mota.
“It’s quite the mass production and I understand the MNRF may be calling in more support,” said Mota.
On Wednesday, Ontario Provincial Police issued a statement indicating an investigation into the cause of the fire is underway. Police said foul play and arson are not suspected.
Evacuation underway in Eabametoong First Nation
Forest fire crews are also battling a fire approximately 53 kilometres southwest of Eabametoong First Nation.
The fire has caused poor air quality in the Indigenous community, forcing officials to evacuate its most vulnerable population to Thunder Bay. Several planes carrying residents from Eabametoong arrived in the city on Wednesday.
As of Wednesday, officials said the fire is not a direct threat to the community’s buildings or infrastructure.
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