Officials question how many more fires need to happen before long-term solutions put in place
CBC News: Three people, including an eight-year-old child, have now been confirmed dead after a fire tore through a home in Pikangikum First Nation. The fire broke out in the Ojibway community in northwestern Ontario last Wednesday evening.
Community officials said cold weather caused mechanical issues with both of the community fire trucks, preventing Pikangikum peacekeepers from dousing the blaze. On Saturday, Ontario Provincial Police said three bodies were recovered and the investigation was ongoing.
“How many more house fires do we have to go through before the government gets serious?” said Chief Shirley Lynne Keeper in a release from the community. “The impacts of these losses are long lasting and triggering for the community.”
This is just the latest fatal fire in a First Nation in northern Ontario. In January, a 10-year-old girl in the Cree community of Peawanuck died.
People in First Nations are 10 times more likely to die in a fire than people from other communities in Canada, according to the Indigenous Fire Marshal Service.
Family ‘reliving a nightmare’
At Queen’s Park in Toronto on Tuesday, NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa read out the names and ages of the people who died in Pikangikum and called for a fire hall for the community. Here are the names of the three:
- Vernie Turtle, 44.
- Kirsten Moose, 38.
- Kendriyanna Turtle, 8.
“One community member told me that they are reliving a nightmare,” Mamakwa said. “I was there on Saturday. The house was still smouldering after three days because they do not have the capacity to put the fire out. This government needs to commit to a fire hall for Pikangikum, so this does not happen again.]\
Mamakawa was referencing another deadly fire in the community, on March 29, 2016, that killed nine people, including an infant.
Greg Rickford, Ontario’s minister of Indigenous affairs, responded to Mamakwa and said he’s been in touch with the First Nation since last week’s fire. “We acknowledge this tragedy and I had a chance to speak to my longstanding friend Chief Dean Owen immediately afterwards following a fire — as the member points out — of a fire that took the lives of three community members,” Rickford said.
“My ministry holds regular calls with the community, subsequently to that, and partners to ensure that they have everything that they need to work through this crisis. I’ve approved surge funding, Mr. Speaker, to address communities’ immediate request for assistance and we stand by to continue to support them in any way we can.”
- People from First Nations 10 times more likely to die in a fire, says Indigenous Fire Marshal
- Indigenous Services Minister committed to ‘closing infrastructure gap’ for fire resources in First Nations
Rickford said the Ontario government continues to work co-operatively with the federal government and the province needs Ottawa’s support to work on strengthening fire response infrastructure.
At the community’s request, the Independent First Nations Alliance (IFNA) is managing an emergency operations centre, and working alongside provincial, federal and other First Nations partners to co-ordinate support during this tragic event. The community said the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal and the coroner began their onsite investigation into the fatal fire last Friday.