Sandy Lake First Nation has confirmed that the lives of three children were taken by a house fire in the community on January 13.
The community says the fire broke out just after 11 p.m., and the Sandy Lake Fire Department and volunteers, Chief and council, Nishnawbe Aski Police Service and community members all acted quickly to help, but were unable to enter the already engulfed home.
The deceased have been identified as:
Grant Meekis – who turned 9 on January 13
Remi Meekis – age 6
Wilfred Meekis – age 4
The parents are Delaney and Cassandra Meekis, and surviving siblings are 12, 10 and about 10 months old. The community says the family has lost everything due to the fire.
"Our hearts are broken for the members, families, first responders, and leadership of Sandy Lake First Nation as they grieve the horrific loss of three beautiful children,” said Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa. “We are devastated for the family and loved ones mourning these three little ones. Please join me in extending thoughts and prayers to everyone touched by this terrible tragedy."
“Sending prayers and condolences to Sandy Lake First Nation as we mourn today’s tragic house fire,” wrote Assembly of First Nations National Chief, RoseAnne Archibald.
Donations to support the family with clothing and other immediate supports can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This is a tragedy. My heart goes out to the families of these children and to the community of Sandy Lake,” wrote Kenora MP Eric Melillo.
“I am absolutely heartbroken to learn of the deaths of three children in Sandy Lake First Nation due to a recent house fire. This will be an extremely difficult time for the community as they mourn the loss of these young people,” wrote Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu.
Sandy Lake adds a lack of adequate water lines and infrastructure prevented the use of fire hydrants, only one water truck was operational, and firefighters did not have the proper resources or equipment to fight the blaze.
“Our volunteers did all they could with what they had. We should have the same level of support as anyone else in Canada. Lives are at stake,” wrote Chief Delores Kakegamic.
Chief Kakegamic is now calling for adequate resources for fire and emergency services for all First Nation communities in Ontario.
“We echo and unequivocally support Chief Kakegamic’s call for adequate resources for fire and emergency services. Indigenous Peoples having a 10x likelihood of dying in a house fire than the rest of Canada is a statistic that is completely unacceptable,” said the Matawa Chiefs Council.
The Office of the Fire Marshal has sent in personnel to assist with the investigation, along with Ontario’s Coroner’s Office and members of the Nisnawbe Aski Police Service.
“So tragic. Our hearts and sympathies go out to the family and the community,” said Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford, who also serves as the Minister of Indigenous Affairs and Minister of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry.
“Really thinking about Sandy Lake. The province has been providing as much support as we possibly can to help them get through this, not just now but also planning in the future,” said Rickford.
“This tragedy comes as a tremendous shock, and words cannot express the grief that we share with the family and community. We are in touch with leadership and have assured Chief and Council that we will help ensure that they receive the supports they need as quickly as possible,” said the Nishnawbe Aski Nation.
Sandy Lake is located 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.