A forest fire went out of control five kilometres south of Whapmagoostui on Sunday, July 31, at 3 p.m.
High winds forced the community to declare a state of emergency at 5 p.m.
As a result, the Canadian Armed Forces were called in to assist with the initial evacuation.
A total of 248 people were evacuated by the military via three Hercules aircraft Hydro-Quebec sent two Conveyors and Air Inuit a 748 to assist in the evacuation.
“Winds were high and the fire was out of control,” said Deputy Grand Chief Matthew Mukash, one of the members of the Whapmagoostui emergency team.
Mukash said the smoke was heavy and the fire was coming close to the community.
“Some experts told us the flames were 10 metres high and that was dangerous,” said Mukash.
Sonny Orr of Whapmagoostui said,
“It spread like wildfire.
“We sent out those people with medical condition, Elders, pregnant women and small babies and children,” said Mukash.
This filled up available space in Chisasibi and Radission so they held off on evacuating the rest of the community.
The Canadian Forces Hercules stayed in Whapmagoostui just in case there were problems, but rain had started falling and killed the high flames.
At 7:30 p.m., an ariel survey followed by a team of 27 men on foot and on four-wheelers checked out the fire.
There was still some danger as there were some hotspots.
Hotspots are when the roots are burning below ground.
By Monday afternoon the wind had shifted and weather reports said it would stay that way for a few days, along with the rain.
“No one was seriously hurt,” said Mukash.
The only injuries were suffered by two firemen, one who had mild second-degree burns on the arm and face with the other being only slightly hurt, said Mukash. Two camps were burnt in the fire.
“We’re lucky there was the rain and the wind didn’t shift,” said Mukash, adding that in the community it was unnerving to see the flames from the fire.
At one point the area on fire covered two-and-a half by one-and-a-half kilometres.
A watch was kept through Sunday night. People returned back to the community on Tuesday, August 2.
“We didn’t have an evacuation plan, so we made one up on the spot,” said Mukash, adding, “I’m very impressed by the way things turned out in end.”