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People from First Nations 10 times more likely to die in a fire, says Indigenous Fire Marshal

February 2, 2023

On Jan. 28, a 10-year-old girl from a remote Cree community died in a house fire

Indigenous Fire Marshal Service said deadly fires are more common in First Nations for a number of reasons, including insufficient fire safety devices. (Jonathan Migneault/CBC)

CBC News: 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.

On Saturday, Jan. 28, a 10-year-old girl from the remote Cree community of Peawanuck, Ont. died in a house fire. The incident has renewed calls for a national fire protection strategy to prevent fatal fires in the future.

In an email to CBC News, Indigenous Services Canada said it is working with the Assembly of First Nations to finalize such a strategy. Its goal would be to “better inform program and policy decision-making and guide federal investments to promote fire protection on reserves and to reduce the risk of fire-related deaths and injuries, as well as infrastructure losses.”

Peawanuck resident Sam Hunter said the fly-in community, located near the Hudson Bay coast, has ordered a fire truck to service its 250 residents. But it has remained stuck in Winnipeg. The community is only accessible by road in the winter, thanks to ice roads, but they have not been thick enough to support the weight of a fire truck.

“It is very frustrating because it’s not the first time,” Hunter said about Saturday’s fatal fire. “Every time we have a house fire a whole building is gone, right to the ground. If we had a fire truck we could have saved the building.”

Arnold Lazare is the deputy chief of operations for the Indigenous Fire Marshal Service. (Submitted by Arnold Lazare)
Lack of resources

Arnold Lazare, the deputy chief of operations for the Indigenous Fire Marshal Service, said there are more Indigenous communities in Canada that are “have-nots” than “haves” when it comes to accessing resources for fire safety.

Lazare said fatal fires are more common in First Nations because buildings are often poorly built and overcrowded, due to a housing shortage. Fire codes are rarely enforced and prevention measures like smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are lacking, he said.

But Lazare said some First Nations, often larger ones near urban centres, have more resources at their disposal and have done good work around fire safety and prevention. He said he is proud of the work done in his home community of Kahnawake, Que., located near Montreal, to improve fire safety.

“I’m proud to say that every child in our community, if asked, would know to get out and stay out,” Lazare said. “Never go and hide, never stay inside.”

Lazare said the Indigenous Fire Marshal Service is collecting fire data from Indigenous communities across Canada to determine where they need to focus their education campaigns and increase resources.

When they visit communities, Lazare said they bring smoke detectors and inspect buildings to help make them safer. “Unfortunately, with some of the houses there’s only one entrance, where you have to work with the community to ensure that that’s corrected,” he said.

He added that if Indigenous Services Canada and the Assembly of First Nations can create a national fire safety standard it will make First Nations safer.


Jonathan Migneault

Digital reporter/editor

Jonathan Migneault is a CBC digital reporter/editor based in Sudbury. He is always looking for good stories about northeastern Ontario. Send story ideas to

With files from Frederic Projean