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This article was published 30/12/2015 (1609 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The grand chief who oversees Manitoba’s northern First Nations communities says we’re seeing the unfortunate realities of a failing system after a fire claimed the lives of three people Tuesday in Oxford House.
The bodies of three adults were discovered in the rubble of a home destroyed by fire early Tuesday morning at Bunibonibee Cree Nation at Oxford House in northern Manitoba.
James Crane, along with his son, Jamie Crane, and Jastidee Sinclair perished in the house fire, according to a family member close to the situation.
The RCMP have not released the names of the victims, but band council member Luke Muskego said they’re assuming the names given to the Free Press are those of the victims of the fire.
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson said immediate and long-term solutions need to be addressed after the tragedy in the community in which she grew up.
"One of the solutions MKO is starting a northern First Nations fire association and having this body look at the gaps where things are falling through in terms of fire safety in First Nations and MKO territory," North Wilson said. "This is more than hits close to home — it’s my home and my community. All we can do is pray and be with them."
A report obtain by The Canadian Press before Christmas revealed almost half the First Nations in Canada have "little to no fire protection."
Manitoba was one of two provinces — B.C. being the other — that had the highest percentage of First Nation sites with marginal fire protection, according to the report.
The report also found that rates of fires were 2.4 times higher in First Nations than the rest of the country, while also revealing First Nations residents were 10 times more likely to die in a house fire compared with the rest of Canada.
"It’s absolutely not good enough," North Wilson said. "It’s not the way people in the north deserve to be treated. There’s so many issues, so many gaps. It’s not right at this time in our lives. We know what the problems are."
A spokesperson for the Fire Commissioners Office of Manitoba said it isn’t the time for them to comment on fire protection issues in Oxford House, saying it would be "highly inappropriate."
The spokesperson said the investigation would take as long as it requires. Investigators arrived in Oxford House late Tuesday afternoon.
Muskego said the fire commissioner determined a wood stove caused the fire.
"It’s quiet, everybody is just keeping to themselves," Muskego said. "We’re in the midst of a tragedy."
Bunibonibee Cree Nation is on the eastern shoreline of Oxford Lake at the mouth of the Hayes River, about 575 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg and 160 kilometres southeast of Thompson.
Bunibonibee Chief Tim Muskego told the Free Press the home was completely destroyed, and firefighters and members of the RCMP found the bodies during a search.
The home belonged to James Crane, who lived there with his wife, Sandra, along with Jamie and a daughter, both adults.
Crane’s wife and daughter were not home when the blaze began.
The bodies of the two men were discovered first, while the third body was located a few hours later.
"Oh my goodness, we’re so distraught," Tim Muskego said. "We were hoping and praying that they weren’t home, maybe away visiting family. It is just awful for the community. I don’t know how else to express it. It’s just so sad.
"We have never been through this. No one has died this way in our community."
A candlelight vigil was held Tuesday evening, attracting hundreds from Bunibonibee who walked about two kilometres from the elementary school to the site where the Crane home had stood.
"It was an amazing turnout. People walked with their candles, praying, crying," Tim Muskego said. "Everyone knows each other here. We care for each other. Everybody is trying to help the families now."
He said he was at the fire scene about 20 minutes after the initial call came in.
"Maybe just before 7 (a.m.) and the house was engulfed already. It’s a wooden structure. It’s a brittle, old house. It burned fast. Within hours it was burned to the ground," Tim Muskego said.
"Our pumper truck was pumping water to the flames but it couldn’t keep up."
RCMP said foul play is not suspected.
"Our officers and our partners have been engaged in the community to ensure that everyone is kept appraised of any updates during the investigation of this tragic incident," said Sgt. Bert Paquet of the Manitoba RCMP.
"As we continue to investigate, our prayers go out to the Oxford House community and the families affected."
Meanwhile, North Wilson said she had been in contact with federal minister of indigenous and northern affairs Carolyn Bennett.
"There’s no real commitments yet," North Wilson said of MKO’s solutions. "We want her to come to the community. We invited her to come to the community and for the funerals along with the prime minister. She knows the issues."
A GoFundMe has been set up to help the victims’ families pay for funerals. The family had no home owners insurance, North Wilson said.
For more information, visit: gofundme.com/oxfordhousehelp.
— with files from Jason Bell
Updated on Wednesday, December 30, 2015 at 8:43 AM CST: Updated with more comments from the chief.
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