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Three children dead in Ontario First Nation house fire, chief says

Three children from one family died in a house fire in northwestern Ontario Thursday night as firefighters raced against time and unusable hydrants, a First Nation chief said Friday.

Sandy Lake First Nation Chief Delores Kakegamic said the fire began around 11:30 p.m. Thursday.

Firefighters rushed to the home, but by the time they got there the house was engulfed in flames, Kakegamic said.

"A mom was home with her six kids and the dad was at work, but we managed to get three out," said Kakegamic, who went to the home to help Thursday night. 

The three children who died in the fire ranged in age from about five to nine years old, she said.

"It's awful," she said, choking up.

Kakegamic said the fire department did what they could.

"None of the fire hydrants were working and we only had one water truck running back and forth as fast as he could," Kakegamic said. 

"The water kept freezing. The fire hydrants never work around here."

She said the community is devastated.

"Everybody is still in shock trying to comprehend what just developed last night," Kakegamic said. 

"We're asking for strength and prayers."

She said Sandy Lake First Nation, which is 600 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, Ont., and only accessible by plane or winter roads, is expecting help from the province shortly.

Two planes with investigators, relief police officers and two coroners are set to arrive in the remote First Nation later Friday, Kakegamic said

Nishnawbe Aski Police are investigating the fire and said Ontario Provincial Police's identification unit is helping.

Ontario's Office of the Fire Marshal said they are sending in three people to investigate the origin, cause and circumstance of the fire.

Kakegamic said the firefighters had no masks, just those used to protect against COVID-19. 

"They all suffered smoke inhalation along with about four councillors who were on hand helping, going through the rubble trying to find the babies," she said.

The firefighters and councillors were all treated and were at home resting, she said. 

"I commend our firefighters doing all they could running back and forth with no masks," Kakegamic said

Deputy Grand Chief Bobby Narcisse of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nations in northern Ontario, said they are in touch with Sandy Lake's leadership and will offer help in any way.

"This tragedy comes as a tremendous shock, and words cannot express the grief that we share with the family and community," Narcisse said in a statement.

He thanked first responders and other members of the community who helped while temperatures hit a low of -31 C early Friday morning.

"This tragedy comes at a very challenging time," Narcisse said. "We encourage everyone to join the community in prayer and find ways to comfort one another as we grieve this terrible loss."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2022. 

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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