Evacuees from Ontario forest fires could return home soon

People evacuated from northwestern Ontario communities because of forest fires could begin returning home soon, provincial government officials said Sunday.

TORONTO — People evacuated from northwestern Ontario communities because of forest fires could begin returning home soon, provincial government officials said Sunday.

The government is working on a plan that would allow those affected by the fires to go back to their communities, said Deputy Minister of Community Safety Ian Davidson.

“That will be based on personal safety and developing a plan with individual First Nations, but we’re working on that right now,” he said.

Davidson did not give a timetable for the return but said “it could happen relatively quickly.”

Asked about the situation, Premier Dalton McGuinty said “the fire does appear at this point in time to be less threatening than in past days.”

“We’re working now to take care of families that have been displaced, and when it’s safe to do so we’ll help them get back home,” McGuinty said.

Almost 3,600 people have been removed from communities since evacuations began June 21. Many of them have been moved to regional centres such as London and Thunder Bay, Ont.

Three First Nations communities have been fully evacuated while another six have been partially evacuated. Officials from those communities could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Davidson said there are no further evacuations planned at this time.

Government officials will decide who will get to return home first based on the safety of their destinations and the capacity of the government to move them, he said.

There were 10 new fires as of 6 p.m. Saturday, said Norma Griffin, the spokeswoman for the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources. That brings the total number of active fires to 118, with more expected to be added Sunday.

The weather forecast into the next week looks favourable, said Griffin, but firefighters will need more rain to help them put out the fires.

Government officials were able to reunite over the weekend families who had been separated during the evacuations, Davidson said.

They found five individuals who had been separated from their families, he said. They resolved two of those cases on Saturday, two more were to be resolved on Sunday and they were still working on the other case.

Nishnawke Aski Nation Grand Chief Stan Beardy told CBC News on Saturday that parents had been separated from their children during evacuations.

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