Forest fire evacuees from Deer Lake First Nation to arrive in Thunder Bay today

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Forest fire activity in northwestern Ontario has forced the evacuation of people in Deer Lake First Nation and Poplar Hill First Nation. Thunder Bay is hosting evacuees from both communities. (Ontario Forest Fires/Twitter - image credit)
Forest fire activity in northwestern Ontario has forced the evacuation of people in Deer Lake First Nation and Poplar Hill First Nation. Thunder Bay is hosting evacuees from both communities. (Ontario Forest Fires/Twitter - image credit)

Some residents of Poplar Hill First Nation are due to arrive in Thunder Bay, Ont., this afternoon after they were forced from their homes due to forest fires.

"They're beginning to evacuate their vulnerable population, the primary evacuees, folks with small children and the elderly," Fire department Deputy Chief Eric Nordlund said Monday. "We're planning, at this point, to take about 100 folks from there."

More than 60 forest fires were burning in northwestern Ontario on Monday.

The provincial Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services (AFFES) agency said the Red Lake 51 fire is burning about 27 kilometres west of Deer Lake. it's being observed, and was listed at more than 27,000 hectares in size.

The city is also hosting evacuees from Poplar Hill First Nation, which is also being evacuated. AFFES says the Red Lake 65 fire is burning about 16 kilometres south of the community.

Red Lake 65 is "exhibiting extreme fire behaviour." It was listed as not under control and about 4,000 hectares in size on Monday, and fire crews were setting up sprinklers on structures in the fire's vicinity, AFFES said.

A 'very dynamic' situation

Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro said the city had to make a quick decision about hosting the evacuees from the two communities.

"Obviously, the fire situation across the north and much of the country is very severe, very dynamic," Mauro said Monday. "And so the situation changed quickly. We had a meeting [Sunday] morning ... where it was decided to be a willing host on the Poplar Hill community.

"But then, later that day, the situation had changed more dramatically and the provincial emergency operations centre reached out to a number of communities across Ontario asking if they could, in fact, increase the number of people they'd be willing to host," he said. "So we met again last night, and that's the decision that's been communicated to today."

Mauro said he declared a state of emergency on Sunday that will help the city recoup some of the costs of hosting evacuees from other levels of government.

Mauro said the city is able to accommodate the 400 evacuees from the two communities.

"My questions are always to the chief of police, the chief of the paramedics and the chief of fire, ensuring that we have the capacity to manage the situation," Mauro said. "All three told me that they do."

No COVID-19 hosting concerns

Mauro said the Thunder Bay District Health Unit (TBDHU) has also confirmed there are no concerns related to COVID-19 with regards to hosting evacuees.

The city said TBDHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janet DeMille has confirmed vaccines have been rolled out in both Deer Lake and Poplar Hill.

All 300 evacuees from Poplar Hill were initially expected to arrive in Thunder Bay on Sunday. However, Nordlund said there were some travel interruptions. Specifics weren't available, but Nordlund said only about 180 of the evacuees actually made it to Thunder Bay then.

The remaining 120 were due to arrive on Monday afternoon.

AFFES said another fire of note is Kenora 51, which is listed as not under control,at more than 46,000 hectares. It's burning in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park.

Hot, dry weather in forecast

Environment Canada meteorologist Gerald Cheng said while cooler weather is expected to track across the northwest on Monday night and Tuesday, the cold front will also likely lead to thunderstorms in the region.

However, Cheng said that doesn't necessarily mean the region will get enough rainfall to have an impact on the forest fires.

As well, the cooler weather isn't expected to last.

"Looking at a little bit more of a long-range forecast, that looks like temperatures are expected to climb back up even potentially higher than they are now towards the end of the week," Cheng said. "What we are looking at is that a ridge of high pressure will sit around northwestern Ontario, and so, especially after Tuesday, we're going to get a dry spell.

"On top of that, temperatures are going to warm back up again, especially towards the latter part of the week."

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