Ontario First Nation where 5 died in blaze says it has no way of fighting fires
A mother and her four children died following a house fire in the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, also known as the Big Trout Lake First Nation.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, May 3, 2019 1:51PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 3, 2019 9:46PM EDT
A northern Ontario First Nation where a mother and four of her children died in a house fire this week has no effective means or equipment to fight fires, a spokesman said Friday as the community grappled with its loss.
Sam McKay, spokesman for the chief and council of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, said the community about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay has a fire truck that doesn't work, a fire hall that was never completed and no fire hoses.
There are fire hydrants in some parts of the community of roughly 1,000, but not everywhere, he said. At times, the community has used drinking water delivered there by truck to combat flames but that's not enough to put them out, he said.
"When there's a fire, you pretty much stand and look at the building burn and make sure there's nobody there," he said. "At this time we were very unfortunate that we lost five people."
Thursday's fatal fire happened around 3 or 4 a.m. so no one was around to help at first, McKay said, though some rescue attempts were made later. Three people were airlifted to hospital for treatment for smoke inhalation and other injuries after they tried to go into the burning home, he said.
Seamus O'Regan, the federal minister of Indigenous services, expressed his condolences and said his department was working to provide assistance to the community.
"My heart is with the community of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug today as friends and family grieve the tragic loss of five in a house fire," he said in an email.
"We will continue supporting community-led solutions and a whole of government approach to keep Indigenous communities safe."
Ontario's minister of Indigenous affairs, Greg Rickford, said in a statement that the province will also offer support to the community.
McKay has said the victims of the fire were a single mother and four of her children -- aged six, seven, nine and 12. Her older daughter was away at the time and survived, he said.
A prayer vigil was held at the site Friday morning at the request of the family before police began their investigation, he said.
Ontario's fire marshal's office, coroner's office and forensic pathology service have also been dispatched to the community.
The Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents a collection of Indigenous communities in northwestern Ontario, has said a team of crisis and support workers would also be sent there.
NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said many other communities also lack fire safety resources.
The organization launched a fire safety campaign after a 2016 fire in Pikangikum First Nation that killed nine people in the same family. The campaign aims to increase fire safety awareness and education, and develop a comprehensive plan that includes equipment and infrastructure such as water distribution systems.
Fiddler said some immediate steps can be taken to minimize risks while Indigenous leaders and politicians at various levels of government work on policy changes, but there are hurdles there too. For example, he said a push to add working smoke detectors in every home can be held up when no one is able to install them.
"As long as the conditions remain the same -- the lack of policy, the lack of legislation, the lack of standards or of codes -- our communities, our families will remain at risk. There's always a danger that we will lose more lives," he said in an interview Friday.
"That shouldn't be. We've had enough wake-up calls in the past for us to do the right thing," he said. "Everyone deserves adequate access to fire protection."
The fire on Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, also known as Big Trout Lake, has had a "devastating" impact on the community but residents are rallying to support the victims' grieving family, said McKay, the spokesman.
"They just can't really function at this moment and that's where everybody comes in to provide support in the home, to make sure that they eat, be able to not get dehydrated and stuff like that because they're in total shock," he said.
There was no immediate word on what caused the blaze.