The first week of hosting forest fire evacuees from northwestern Ontario in Timmins has gone “very good” so far, says fire chief Tom Laughren.
Timmins is temporarily housing about 150 people from Pikangikum First Nation who were forced to leave their community due to forest fires. A total of 865 people have been evacuated from Pikangikum First Nation, with the other people being housed in Sudbury, Sioux Lookout and Thunder Bay.
As of Monday afternoon, there were 111 active forest fires in the northwestern region of the province.
“I just call it a normal evacuation. There’s nothing spectacular and we’re looking at the community’s needs and what supports we can put in place to help with that,” Laughren said. “We’ve got good staff, good community partnership support.”
The evacuees are staying at The Ramada Inn. The Timmins Police Service (TPS) has issued a traffic advisory with the increased pedestrian traffic in the city’s west end.
Laughren said there are healthcare supports in place and recreational activities and games going on for evacuated children and youth.
“We have basketball nets set up. We’ve got hockey sticks, we’ve got YMCA people from the CDSSAB helping to support the activities for the kids. We try to ensure we have movies, entertainment to keep them active and keep them busy," he said.
The Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board (CDSSAB) is also looking for summer clothing donations for the evacuees.
About 50 per cent of the evacuees are people under 18, according to the fire chief. Out of about 150 people, Laughren estimated there are about 20 people who are aged 30 and over, about 70 people are under the age of 10, and about 30 to 40 people between 10 and 20 years old.
A state of emergency has also been declared in the city. According to the fire chief, it's more administrative and is not related to COVID-19.
“A lot of it is for awareness, not only for the community that has to evacuate as well as our own community. It helps with the supports,” he said. “Anything you can do to help get the message out, to make people more aware, is a good thing for sure.”
It’s unknown how long the evacuees will be staying in Timmins.
At this time, the city is not looking to host more evacuees as it’s at the capacity based on the services and supports available within the community, according to Laughren
"I'm sure it's not easy for the people who evacuated. They've got community concerns and everything else, so we try to work with them as much as we can to alleviate that," he said.
Timmins has been a host community for evacuations for a number of years.
Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com