Challenges back home have some fire evacuees worried

A week ago severe fires forced Theresa Eischen and dozens of Little Grand Rapids First Nation members into a school gymnasium for protection while the community waited to be airlifted to Winnipeg.

A community-wide evacuation forced 820 members to leave the area located 280 km northeast of Winnipeg.

After spending the past week calling a Winnipeg hotel home Eischen is now concerned about the community she left behind.

“We’re thinking about home,” said Eischen. “We’re hoping we still have a community to go back to.”

As of Wednesday three homes are reported destroyed, according to provincial authorities.

Fires continue to burn throughout the area. Fire crews have completed setting up sprinklers to protect homes in Little Grand Rapids.

Recent footage taken from the community shows most of the billowing smoke is gone but the damage remains.

Collin Meekis, a community health representative in Little Grand Rapids, was part of a crew who went back to the community last weekend.

He documented some of the damage both by air and by car on the ground.

“It didn’t look too bad from the air. It was still green at least where we live on the north side but on the south side it’s black where the houses burnt down,” said Meekis.

Chief and council plan to send another crew up there this week to begin the rebuilding effort.

Clinton Keeper, a band councillor, told APTN News they plan to send mechanics, plumbers and volunteers to assist with the clean up.

Keeper says it could be another month before members can return home due to damaged power lines. An environmental officer will also be in the community this week to monitor water samples for any damage caused by the ash.

While evacuees wait to go home they are left with thoughts of pets left behind and spoiled food.

“We’re concerned about all the meat that we have in our freezers,” said Eischen. “I made six trips for my parents to stock up our freezers for the whole year.”

Red Cross is working with the community to replace some of the spoiled food.

But Keeper says for now the main concern is keeping community members safe from some of the challenges they may face in the city.

“One thing that we need to look at too is all the elements that are available in the city,” said Keeper. “I’m talking about drugs and stuff like that. They’re easy to access and we don’t want our young people to experiment on stuff like that. The sooner we get them out of the city the better it will be.”

Meekis says some evacuees have already had to face those realities.

“Some say that they find used needles and stuff. They have little ones that dig outside,” he said.

“Either way it’s dangerous still even though we’re in Winnipeg.”

For now, it appears the community has banded together.

“It’s about keeping people safe. People who are not normally used to being in the city,” said Eischen.

“We have to be vigilant and keep and eye on each other.”