Fatal fire draws attention to lack of firefighting resources

A house fire in the First Nation of Pikangikum killed nine people after a fire truck was unable to control the fire because it did not have any water

FireRescue1 Staff

ONTARIO, Canada — A house fire that killed nine people Tuesday is drawing attention to the lack of firefighting resources on reserves in Canada.

Vice.com reported the fire occurred in Pikangikum, an embattled community in Northern Ontario. Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said residents were shocked by the tragedy.

Police have not released the number of victims involved, but local parliament member Robert Nault said the death toll had reached nine, including three children.

Politicians from around the country offered their condolences.

"We continue to be engaged with provincial and indigenous leadership on how to build better infrastructure, how to secure the future for indigenous youth and their communities," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "This is not just about the moral right thing to do. It's about investing in our shared future in this country."

According to Nishnawbe Aski Nation, 95 percent of homes in Pikangikum do not have running water and firefighting services are non-existent.

"They have a fire truck, but the infrastructure for that piece of equipment to be effective is not there," Chief Fiddler said. "There's no running water, which makes it difficult for that fire truck to be an effective resource."

A 2011 report found fire rates were 2.4 times higher for First Nation than the rest of the country and that First Nation residents were 10 times more likely to die in a fire. Nearly half have little to no fire protection.

Chief Fiddler said First Nation communities would like to start working with the government to gain access to federal infrastructure funding, according to the report. In a statement, he said the fatal house fire could have been prevented but a "chronic lack of firefighting services and substandard housing in NAN First Nation's is a deadly combination that has claimed far too many lives."

He also said an immediate focus should be on getting homes equipped with smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and regular inspections.

"When we talk about a lack of proper housing, lack of access to clean drinking water, lack of access to fire suppression, to basic health care, we're talking about Pikangikum," Chief Fiddler said.

There is debate over who is ultimately responsible for providing fire services on reserves.

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