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Updated: Sat, 23 Nov 2013 14:07:45 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Attawapiskat flights planned for homeless after fire



Erik White/CBC

Erik White/CBC

Flights from Attawapiskat were planned today to transport 70 people forced from their homes by a fire in the First Nation community in northern Ontario.

Officials declared an emergency in the remote James Bay Coast community on Friday after a fire broke out earlier this week in a set of trailers being used as temporary housing due to a sewage system break.

No one was injured in the fire, which community leaders believe was caused by a candle in one of the rooms.

“I have been told by Chief Theresa Spence and various councillors and people I know on the ground, it seems to be the candle. But I'm sure there is still going to be an investigation," Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus told CBC News.

“It appears the fire was a domino effect of the storm hitting the power system earlier this week and people losing power, losing heat, losing lights, and then the families trying to stay warm, and someone had left a candle in one of the rooms and it caught fire,” said Angus, the NDP critic for ethics.

Two flights were scheduled Saturday to fly the evacuees from the remote James Bay community to the town of Kapuskasing, Angus said.

The Ontario government is arranging the air transportation.

The Provincial Emergency Operations Centre of the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management is working with Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development Canada and municipal leaders.

The trailers that were once used by De Beers Canada to house workers at the company's diamond mine west of the community. De Beers donated them to Attawapiskat in 2009.

The fire is the latest in a string of hardships the community has recently faced. The week started when a storm with strong winds knocked out power to the community of 2,000.

In addition, pipes had burst in the local high school earlier this month.

The set of connected trailers in the complex has long, narrow hallways and look like "holding cells, where young families are living," said Angus, who described them as a "substandard infrastructure."

"There are four toilets and a couple of showers and one kitchen facility for 80 to 90 people," he said.

In 2011, Attawapiskat became a flashpoint for relations between the federal government and First Nations after a housing crisis triggered a state of emergency.

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