People in Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, also known as Big Trout Lake First Nation in northwestern Ontario, are mourning the deaths of five people in a house fire Thursday morning.
“We are in utter disbelief, as every community member is connected and impacted,” Chief Donny Morris said in a written statement on Thursday. “Today our community mourns this tragic loss.”
Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) is located about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.
In an interview with CBC News on Thursday, Morris said he was notified of the fire at around 5:00 that morning, and that police were waiting for the fire marshal to “verify what happened.”
“It was a private residence with a single mom with her kids,” he said. “Four children and one single parent.”
“Everybody is affected,” since the First Nation is a small community, Morris said.
“Especially when it comes down to kids, that’s the hard part — when you know that these kids won’t grow up and were lost tragically.”
Morris said it was hard to fight the fire because houses in the community are old, and because the First Nation lacks proper firefighting equipment, including hydrants with enough water pressure.
“Losing one whole family, that’s unbearable,” he said.
Latest tragic fire
The deadly blaze in KI comes barely three years since a fire in Pikangikum — another First Nation in northwestern Ontario — killed nine people, including a baby and two young children. In recent years, fires in nearby Wunnumin Lake and Mishkeegogamang First Nations have also killed several people.
Those fires, along with another one in 2016 in Oneida First Nation near London, Ont., prompted Ontario’s chief coroner to launch an expert review of why house fires in First Nations so often become tragedies, calling the number of deaths on reserves “disproportionate.”
A 2010 federal study found that First Nations people on reserves are 10 times more likely to die in a house fire than people in the rest of Canada.
First Nations leaders, including Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the NishnawbeAski Nation, have blamed this on inadequate housing, unsafe building standards, lack of enforcement of building codes, and outdated or ineffective firefighting equipment.
Morris said Thursday he didn’t yet know what caused the fire in KI, nor if the home had a working smoke alarm.
“I need the fire marshal and the investigation unit to give me these [answers],” he said, adding that people trying to rescue the family were also hurt.
The identities of the deceased have not yet been released.
“On behalf of the community, all I can ask for is prayers … because I can’t take back what happened,” Morris said.
This story originally appeared on CBC