As James Bay Crees, we have all experienced the damage that forest fires can do to our wildlife and communities at least once in our lives. The Nation explored how it affected people from different communities and if they thought that enough has been done for public safety.
Dominic Swallow, Nemaska: I wouldn’t say that the fires had a definite impact on me, but more as a cause for concern for the well-being of my children. It also raised concerns for my family and friends because I struggle with respiratory problems. I think that enough is being done. After all, we’ve had our community evacuated twice and the coordination of both situations was above my expectations.
Catherine Cheezo, Nemaska: To be honest, the forest fires haven’t affected me personally because I am always on the road. However, I feel that forest fires are very unpredictable and all of the communities should have an accurate emergency-evacuation plan instead of just trying to figure out what to do at the last minute after the situation gets out of hand.
Joseph-john Shecapio, Mistissini: They really have not affected me in a way that some people have been affected. But I know one thing for sure: a friend of mine told me that she had to go home for some reason and she couldn’t due to the roads being closed. Another person told me that one of the fires was way too close to their bush camp. If they had been there, they would have lost all of their belongings. There is so much that can be done about forest fires. I myself do not know how much work they put in to control the fires but I can tell you this, I saw the fire that had started in Chibougamau and I feel they dealt with it as fast as humanly possible but again, it’s a little different out there. If there is no town nearby, I think they just kind of let it burn out on its own.
Johnny Tomatuk, Eastmain: As a member of the fire department here in Eastmain, I have been working long hours and it has been stressful for me. The ongoing debate about evacuating or not has probably caused me the most stress. The expertise of our department has really been put to the test. We have been in action for a couple of weeks now and we have gained a lot of experience. Even though it had a very negative impact on most people, I, myself, think that for all firefighters, it was a necessary experience to go through. We did what we could do. Any other fire department would have done the same. It was a life-and-death situation and we did our best. The power shortage was another major problem and we are still in the process of making adjustments.
Rodney Mark, Wemindji: I was not affected directly but our community had to be evacuated for a two-day period. The major factor was that there were numerous cases with respiratory difficulties due to the thick smoke but other than that, everything else was basically fine. Our fire department did a very good job and they were ready for anything. The emergency plan went very smooth.
Abraham Rupert, Chisasibi: The impact on our community was quite traumatic. We were very worried about the people who have respiratory problems. Smoke inhalation can be very toxic. Our number-one concern was the health of community members. All hospital patients had to be transferred and half of the community members were evacuated. We were very lucky that there were no winds that came from the west. The fire was dangerously close to the community and we almost lost a few houses but we managed. We had a very good response from the young people in our community. They volunteered and they were very efficient. We had no shortage of food or water due to their great help. I felt very touched to see that young people were so protective and loving of our community. We also had immense help from Val d’Or and Radisson. I am very thankful for their hospitality.
Doris Tanoush, Nemaska: I was very worried for my family and friends but thankfully nothing serious happened this year. I find that the evacuation notice was a bit too late. There was not enough structure and it was too last minute. The roads were already all smokey and you could barely see where you were going. I was also worried about pregnant woman and small children because they could be the ones with the most damage in the end. Even the insides of houses and buildings were smokey and that can also do a lot of damage to your health.
Michael Blacksmith, Waswanipi: Personally, I was really worried about our wildlife. I kept thinking about the animals that scattered away from their habitat and the ones that burned in the fires. Other than that, our community wasn’t really affected. There was only one night that it became very smokey and people started to panic. The fire department was just on stand-by so there wasn’t very much to take care of. It was basically Chibougamau that had the biggest impacts due to the forest fires.