Some 200 evacuees from Sandy Lake finally arrived in Arthur Thursday night after a journey fraught with difficulties.
“The residents of Sandy Lake have gone through an awful lot,” said Raymond Tout, mayor of the Township of Wellington North, which will host the evacuees until the situation up north improves.
First, smoke from the fires was so thick, planes weren't able to fly into and out of the area. Then, the night the evacuees were scheduled to leave Thunder Bay, a violent thunderstorm ripped the roof off the airport.
“We had 2,400 evacuees in the airport at the time,” Tout said.
Now that the evacuees are safe in Arthur, the community has sprung into action, preparing beds and arranging meals and recreation opportunities, said co-ordinator Andrea Ravensdale.
“The residents seem really happy to be here -- they're out exploring the area, the kids are having fun playing with some of our volunteers,” she said.
“We're just trying to make their stay enjoyable.”
Tout added he's pleased with how many volunteers have come forward to help out.
“The municipality has really stepped up to the plate ... but that's what rural Ontario is all about,” he said.
As of Friday, 3,500 people had been evacuated to communities across Ontario, including Greenstone, Ignace, and even Ottawa.
Thick smoke continues to blanket much of the northwest, creating significant health concerns for children, the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions.
Debbie MacLean, a fire information officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, said smoke will continue to affect communities across the north, especially if conditions remain dry and hot in the fire zone.
“It all depends on the weather - which way the wind is blowing,” she said. “If the weather is fine, clear, sunny, dry and windy, then the fires come back to life and the ones that are already burning flare up, and then we have more smoke.”
Dozens of fires are active across northwestern Ontario, affecting an area nearly the size of Prince Edward Island.