Bodies of two adults, one child recovered after house fire

By Fakiha Baig
THE CANADIAN PRESS

Two adults and a child have been confirmed dead in a house fire on a remote northwestern Ontario First Nation, its chief said Monday as she called for the government to improve firefighting services in her community. 

Chief Shirley Lynne Keeper said the fatal fire that broke out Wednesday in Pikangikum First Nation has been triggering for residents, who still recall a 2016 blaze that killed a family of nine, including three children.

“How many more house fires do we have to go through before the government gets serious,” Keeper wrote in a statement. 

“The impacts of these losses are long lasting.”

One person had earlier been confirmed dead in Wednesday’s fire on the First Nation located about 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont. The bodies of two others who had been unaccounted for were found over the weekend, Keeper said.

Two fire trucks that could have helped douse the flames were frozen because the community does not have an adequate building to shelter the vehicles during extremely cold temperatures, Keeper has said. 

Mathew Hoppe, the CEO of the the Independent First Nations Alliance, which represents five communities in the region, said those who died in the fire were a family living in a “close knit” neighbourhood affectionately known as “Smurfs’ Village” because the homes in the area have blue walls.

A spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada said it recognizes that such fires profoundly affect the entire community.

“Our thoughts are with all community members, particularly those who have been directly affected, and First Nation leaders who worked so hard to respond to this event,” Randy Legault-Rankin wrote in a weekend statement.

“Departmental officials have been in touch with Pikangikum First Nation leadership and are working closely with the community … to ensure that all community members have the supports needed during this difficult time.”

The government said four emergency support workers and two mental health workers were deployed to Pikangikum. 

A 2021 Statistics Canada report commissioned by the National Indigenous Fire Safety Council found First Nations individuals living on reserves are about 10 times more likely to die in a fire than non-Indigenous Canadians.

Last month, a 10-year-old girl died after a house fire on the Weenusk First Nation, a northern community in Peawanuck, Ont.

The Nishnawbe Aski Nation, a group representing 49 First Nations in northern Ontario, said at the time that the community’s newly purchased fire truck was stuck in Winnipeg awaiting shipment when the fire broke out.

NAN’s Deputy Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum added several member communities have had to grapple with deadly house fires over the past decade.

That includes Sandy Lake First Nation, where three children died in a fire last January. Mishkeegogamang First Nation, meanwhile, lost four residents in 2014, including two young children.