3 children dead in house fire in Sandy Lake First Nation in Ontario

·3 min read
The fatal house fire in Sandy Lake First Nation early Friday is under investigation by Nishnawbe Aski Police Services and provincial officials. (Submitted by Nishnawbe Aski Nation - image credit)
The fatal house fire in Sandy Lake First Nation early Friday is under investigation by Nishnawbe Aski Police Services and provincial officials. (Submitted by Nishnawbe Aski Nation - image credit)

A house fire Friday in Sandy Lake, a remote First Nation in northwestern Ontario, has claimed the lives of three children.

The fire in the remote First Nation in northwestern Ontario, about 600 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, broke out late Thursday night.

The victims were aged nine, six and four, according to a media statement from the community.

The statement said firefighters, police and community members acted quickly to try to help but the house was already engulfed in flames.

Only one water truck was available to feed the fire truck, according to the statement, along with a lack of adequate water lines and infrastructure preventing the use of fire hydrants.

"Our volunteers did all they could do with what they had," Chief Delores Kakegamic said in a statement. "We should have the same level of support as anyone else in Canada. Lives are at stake."

The Office of the Fire Marshal, along with the Ontario Coroner's Office and Nishnawbe Aski Police Service, are investigating the fire.

Sandy Lake is roughly 600 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay.

Deputy grand chief thanks 1st responders

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Bobby Narcisse said NAN has been in close contact with leadership in Sandy Lake, and is offering whatever support they can provide as the community grieves together.

Narcisse said emergency response crews braved frigid temperatures plunging below –30 C.

"We heard the acts of heroism and that these individuals were there and did their best to really help out in these very tragic circumstances."

Condolences, thoughts and prayers for Sandy Lake have been shared on social media.

"Sending prayers and condolences to Sandy Lake First Nation as we mourn today's tragic house fire," tweeted RoseAnne Archibald, Assembly of First Nations national chief.

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu tweeted, "I am absolutely heartbroken to learn of the deaths of three children in Sandy Lake First Nation due to a recent house fire. This will be an extremely difficult time for the community as they mourn the loss of these young people."

Ontario NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa, Conservative provincial Minister Greg Rickford and federal MP Eric Melillo also tweeted condolences.

Several fatal house fires in recent years

"We're always in a perpetual state of crisis response," said Narcisse, adding there have been many devastating fires in remote First Nations across NAN territory in northern Ontario.

They include:

  • In 2011, a fire in Nibinamik First Nation claimed the lives of young boys aged two and three, and injured a third. Two years later, a fire in Wunnumin Lake killed two children and their 21-year-old aunt.

  • A fire in Mishkeegogamang in 2014 resulted in the deaths of a mother, her two young daughters and her nephew.

  • A 2016 house fire in Pikangikum killed nine people. The youngest, Amber Strang, was five months old.

  • A fire in Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug claimed the lives of a family of five in 2019.

The Pikangikum fire led to the creation of Amber's Fire Safety Campaign in May 2016 by the NAN Chiefs-in-Assembly, to promote fire safety and awareness, and improve firefighting services in the 49 NAN First Nations.

A report into fire deaths in First Nations was completed in the summer of 2021 by Ontario's chief coroner.

Among the findings, it determined First Nations children under 10 had the highest fire-related mortality rate, 86 times greater than non-First Nation children in Ontario. The highest number of fire fatalities were in communities with no year-round road access.

Narcisse said much work has taken place over the past few years to improve fire safety to prevent needless tragedies.

However, he added: "A lot more needs to be done."

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