THUNDER BAY - Evacuees displaced from the flood-threatened Kashechewan First Nation are hoping to return home as early as next week.
Deputy fire chief David Paxton, who has been actively involved with accommodating the evacuees alongside Thunder Bay Fire Rescue, on Friday says he’s optimistic it can happen.
“Over the last couple days we’ve been monitoring the river, and the reports are that they’ve had a slow melt which has allowed the ice to slowly move away [from Kashechewan] and towards James Bay,” Paxton said.
In late April, five flights, carrying a total of 204 evacuees, arrived in Thunder Bay. The earliest evacuees have now spent 21 days in the city. Community members were also evacuated to Timmins, Kapuskasing and Cornwall.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and provincial government have downgraded the status of flooding in Kashechewan from “flood warning” to “flood watch.”
“It’s not imminent but they’re still monitoring it for the potential of a flood,” Paxton said.
In terms of an exact timetable, Paxton said there’s a number of safety measures that need to be ensured before the evacuees can return.
“The potential for a flood has to pass,” he said.
On Thursday, the provincial and federal governments reached a relocation implementation plan with Kashechewan First Nation to eventually move the community to higher ground.
The framework sets out a community planning and development process that includes necessary steps for relocation.
Evacuations are an annual occurrence for the Northern Ontario community, with Thunder Bay serving as a host community since 2006.
“I know the community was quite excited," Paxton said. "A lot of buzz around what was going on.”
During the evacuees’ stay in Thunder Bay, the city fire department has helped plan events for children to keep them occupied, helping them get to and from laundry services, and deal with every day life away from their homes.
“In a setting that’s not made for long-term, there’s some elements of home that aren’t there," Paxton said. "So we try and ease that stay a little bit.”
Local hotels, Red Cross, Indigenous Services Canada and local nursing services have also play a major role, Paxton added.