Peawanuck has bought a fire truck but it’s stuck in Winnipeg
CBC News: A 10-year-old girl died in a house fire in the remote northern Ontario community of Peawanuck, Ont., which does not have access to fire services or basic firefighting equipment. Alison Linklater, grand chief of Mushkegowuk Council, said the small community is “in a state of shock” following the fire, which happened on Saturday, Jan. 28.
Mushkegowuk Council represents seven First Nations in Ontario’s far north. Linklater said that Weenusk First Nation, which includes Peawanuck, remains independent, but has close ties with the council. “It’s very unfortunate that Peawanuck is left in this situation, and it should never have happened,” Linklater said.
After the fire, Linklater said she was part of a meeting with leaders from the community to find ways to help the family and prevent future fatal fires from happening again. She said 10 people lived in the home. A few family members were airlifted 400 kilometres southeast to the community of Moose Factory so they could be treated for smoke inhalation.
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“I have been in touch with, not the family directly, but with their close relatives just to see what they need right now,” Linklater said. “And we’ve been doing our best to come together to support the family and the community, like the different organizations.”
Linklater said the community purchased a fire truck a couple of years ago, but it has remained in Winnipeg, nearly 1,000 kilometres away.
Peawanuck is a fly-in community for much of the year, but is accessible by land in the winter, thanks to ice roads. But Linklater said in recent years the ice hasn’t been thick enough to transport a fire truck to the community. She said the First Nations she represents along the James Bay coast do have firefighting equipment and volunteer firefighters.
Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus told reporters on Monday that the girl’s death and injuries from the fire were unacceptable. “How is it possible in Canada that we have communities that do not have basic fire protection?” he asked.
“This reminds us, it reminds me deeply, of the work that needs to be done.”
Improving fire safety
Angus said he would meet with Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Mark Miller and Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu to come up with a long-term plan for proper emergency services in the community. “On Sunday, I spoke with Chief Hunter to express my condolences and confirm that Indigenous Services Canada is available to help co-ordinate supports to the family and community,” Hadju said in an email to CBC News.
In a separate statement, a spokesperson for her office, Andrew MacKendrick, said the “tragedy underpins the crucial need for better fire safety resources, training, and support.” MacKendrick said Indigenous Services Canada is working closely with the Assembly of First Nations to move forward on the First Nations Fire Protection Strategy.
“In the coming weeks we are looking to hold a fire safety gathering in order to bring partners and experts from across the country together, and look at what tools can be implemented in the short, medium, and long terms to improve fire safety on reserve,” he said.
With files from Angela Gemmill and Frederic Projean