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Forest fire near Keewaywin First Nation continues to grow


July 8, 2019
By The Canadian Press

July 8, 2019, Keewaywin First Nation, Ont. – Provincial officials say the forest fire heading towards Keewaywin First Nation in northwestern Ontario continues to grow.

The province’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry says the fire, dubbed Red Lake 23, has grown more than 100 square kilometres since Friday to a current size of 719 square kilometres.

It’s currently burning just eight kilometres south of the remote Indigenous community, which is 560 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.

Fire crews are trying to limit the spread of the blaze, and officials were expecting light winds to blow the fire east, away from the community, on Saturday.

Half of Keewaywin’s roughly 450 residents were flown out to Timmins, Ont., on Friday, according to former chief Joe Meekis.

The other half were sent to Sioux Lookout, where local officials say the town is at capacity.

Sioux Lookout manager of corporate services Brian MacKinnon says all evacuees are being held at a hotel, and a local restaurant is providing all of the meals.

MacKinnon says the evacuees have settled in and the town is now looking to organize recreational activities for the children. A beach trip was planned for Saturday but might have been postponed due to smoke warnings in the area.

Environment Canada has issued public alerts for air quality in Sioux Lookout, Sandy Lake, Red Lake, Pickle Lake, Kenora, Dryden and Fort Frances until Sunday.

Meanwhile, the federal government says it has accepted a request from the province to help members of First Nation communities leave areas affected by the fire, including the Pikangikum First Nation, located just southwest of Keewaywin.

Ralph Goodale, the minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, says the request from the province includes the deployment of Canadian Armed Forces personnel and transportation support.

“The government operations centre has staff working to co-ordinate the federal response to the situation in Ontario,” Goodale said in a statement issued Saturday.