3 people killed in First Nation house fire in Pikangikum

A house fire broke out in the Pikangikum First Nation of northwestern Ontario last week, killing three people, including a child.  (John Woods/The Canadian Press - photo credit)

A house fire broke out in the Pikangikum First Nation of northwestern Ontario last week, killing three people, including a child. (John Woods/The Canadian Press – photo credit)

Three people, including an eight-year-old child, have now been confirmed dead after a fire destroyed a home in the Pikangikum First Nation.

The fire broke out in the community of Ojibway in northwestern Ontario last Wednesday evening.

Community officials said cold weather caused mechanical problems with both of the community’s fire engines, preventing Pikangikum peacekeepers from extinguishing the blaze.

On Saturday, Ontario Provincial Police said three bodies had been recovered and the investigation is ongoing.

“How many more house fires do we have to go through before the government gets serious?” Chief Shirley Lynne Keeper said in a community statement. “The impact of these losses is long-lasting and community-triggering.”

This is just the latest deadly fire in a First Nation in northern Ontario.

In January, a 10-year-old girl died in the Cree community of Peawanuck.

According to the Indigenous Fire Marshal Service, First Nations people are 10 times more likely to die in a fire than people from other communities in Canada.

Family ‘experiencing a nightmare’

In Toronto’s Queen’s Park on Tuesday, NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa read out the names and ages of people who died in Pikangikum and called for a fire hall for the community.

Here are the names of the three:

  • Vernie Turtle, 44.

  • Kirsten Moose, 38.

  • Kendriyanna tortoise, 8th

“A parishioner told me they are reliving a nightmare,” Mamakwa said. “I was there on Saturday. The house was still smoldering after three days because they were unable to put out the fire. This government needs to commit to a fire station for Pikangikum so this doesn’t happen again.”

CLOCK | Sol Mamakwa says the community is “re-living a nightmare” after the fire.:

Mamakawa was referring to another fatal fire in the community on March 29, 2016 that killed nine people, including an infant.

Ontario’s Minister for Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford replied to Mamakwa, saying he has been in touch with the First Nation since the fire last week.

“We recognize this tragedy and I had the opportunity to speak with my longtime friend Chief Dean Owen immediately afterwards after what the member points out, a fire claimed the lives of three parishioners,” Rickford said.

“My ministry is on regular phone calls to the community and partners afterwards to make sure they have what they need to get through this crisis. I have approved top-up funding, Mr Sprecher, to meet the communities’ immediate request for support and we stand ready to continue to support them in any way we can.”

Rickford said the Ontario government continues to work collaboratively with the federal government and that the province needs Ottawa’s support to work to strengthen firefighting infrastructure.

At the request of the community, the Independent First Nations Alliance (IFNA) manages an Emergency Operations Center and is working with provincial, federal and other First Nations partners to coordinate support during this tragic event.

The community said the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office and coroner began investigating the fatal fire at the scene last Friday.


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