I am loving this hot, dry summer we are having, but it comes with a price. The problem is that many forest fires have been burning throughout Ontario and in particular Northern Ontario. This is a great time of the year for all of us to enjoy the outdoors but we must be aware that when the fire hazard is high we should not be having any campfires. It is necessary to remember that during these very hot and dry months the forest is like a giant tinderbox. The smallest ignition can result in a terrible fire that causes damage over thousands of hectares of wilderness forest.

Animals are also negatively affected by huge fires. They lose their habitat and in many cases are trapped and die in roaring blazes. In the worst-case situations forest fires threaten First Nation communities and sometimes ravage homes.

Forest fires are not easy to fight and it requires a lot of investment, time and money to deal with this problem. Fire fighters put their lives on the line to protect our forests and homes when blazes become out of control. All kinds of technology is involved in fighting fires and many First Nation people make up the teams deployed to extinguish these hot spots.

Most fires are actually caused by lightening so there is not much we can do to prevent those. However, many are started because people are not careful in making sure their campfires are properly extinguished. I never light a fire in a high fire hazard condition. When the conditions are good I make sure that when I am finished with my campfire I stamp it out and then pour water on the fire until I am sure it is out. I do not leave the fire site until I am sure of this.

The Cree of James Bay always had great respect for fire and Native people in general see life as revolving around fire. This element has always been a part of our traditional and cultural life and has helped us to survive over thousands of years. It gives us light, warmth and we use it to cook our food. Our elders and ancestors have always had great respect for fire and we have always been aware that fire has to be tended, controlled and cared for. If fire is unleashed in an irresponsible way then it can be very dangerous and destructive. We have many legends that deal with fire.

This summer First Nation people have had to deal with the out-of-control rage of many forest fires. More than 3,500 First Nation people from several communities have had to be evacuated from their homes. Some of these First Nations included Cat Lake, Keewaywin, Koocheching and Sandy Lake. It is really difficult for people to leave their homes and this is very hard on the elderly, sick and children. I am sad to see so many people uprooted from their First Nations and flown out to find shelter and safety in other towns and cities. It is great that they are finding a safe place to escape to but at the same time I know that these people are frightened, anxious about being forced out of their homes and they are worried about their possessions back in their communities.

Thank goodness we have so many caring, giving and kind people in communities like Matachewan First Nation, Greenstone, Kapuskasing and Smith Falls who have organized to assist so many Native people who have been evacuated for their safety. In my area I give a heartfelt thanks (meegwetch) to Matachewan First Nation Chief Alex (Sonny) Batisse and Councillors Jean Lemieux, Leonil Boucher, Eleanore Hendrix, Robert Batisse and Gail Brubacher.

It is not easy to volunteer to organize and care for so many evacuees on short notice. This is a huge challenge for a small First Nation like Matachewan and for the other towns involved. There are all kinds of support services that have to be put in place and people have to dedicate a lot of time, money and energy to ensure the evacuees are safe and comfortable while away from home. Thanks must also be given to all of those courageous Ministry Of Natural Resources fire fighters and personnel who are dedicated to keeping our people and forests safe. You can go to www.mnr.gov.on.ca to look for information on forest fires to find out what the fire hazard level is for an area and to see what fires are active.

It seems like the worst of the fire season is over and people are returning to their homes. We can only hope that somehow Mother Earth provides us with a balance for the rest of the summer so that the fire hazard level is low and we can still enjoy many warm and sunny days.