The last of the Mattagami First Nation residents who stayed behind to protect the community pulled out on May 24 as a forest fire burned north of the reserve.
Mattagami Chief Walter Naveau said at about 2:30 p.m, he and more than 30 residents began to evacuate the community after police told them they had to leave.
Within a half-hour, the community members rode out north on Highway 144 under a police escort as the forest fire called Timmins No. 9 continued to burn west of the highway.
“We went through the main part where it’s very smoky,” Naveau said. “You could feel it in your lungs – the burning.”
As they drove, Naveau said they could see the fire burning, drifting ashes and “columns of smoke all over.”
“You couldn’t see the sun even though you know it’s there,” Naveau said. “Everything was orange. It was eerie.”
The caravan made it to the Highway 144 and 101 junction and drove through the city of Timmins before arriving in Kapuskasing in the late afternoon, joining the 193 community members who were evacuated the evening prior.
Naveau said the community members are still feeling shock and grief on the situation.
Naveau took part in a teleconference that involved fire officials and all the communities affected by the fire and said the fire has yet to reach his home community.
“The wind is still in our favour,” he said. “The winds could change tomorrow and that’s not the best we’re looking for.”
The Timmins No. 9 fire began on May 20 southwest of Timmins and has grown to a size of about 31,660 hectares as of May 25, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources. At the time, the blaze was approximately one kilometer south of Highway 101 and two kilometers west of Highway 144. However, MNR officials estimate the fire could the jump the highways on May 25 and continue in an easterly direction.
The City of Timmins declared a state of emergency on May 24 as billowing smoke darkened the skies of the city. The city has also implemented an outdoor water ban.
According to the fire update phone line set up by the city, the fire is about 30-35 kilometres from Timmins as of 10:30 a.m. May 25.
Smoke and ash from the fire led to the closure of the Timmins airport on May 25.
In a statement on its website, MNR said that continued wind and weather conditions will “likely cause the fire to keep growing.”
“Fire Timmins 9 demonstrated extreme behaviour and spread significantly on May 24,” MNR wrote.
The MNR said it has 16 four-man crews battling the blaze, which stretches over 50 kilometres, and that additional resources are being deployed to the fire.
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