Skip to main content

Niagara Regional Health: No Fire Evacuees, Please

As wildfires rage throughout northern Ontario and make their way south in a situation that shows no signs of abating, health officials in the Niagara Region have asked not to host evacuees for fear of exposing them to C. difficile
  • Author:
  • Updated:

Battling outbreaks of the Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) superbug in three hospitals, the Niagara Health System (NHS) has asked that its share of a potential 5,000 mostly First Nations wildfire refugees from up north be routed elsewhere.

A report from QMI Agency in the Niagara Falls Review says that St. Catharines and Fort Erie are among the Ontario cities that Emergency Management Ontario asked to host people displaced by more than 100 wildfires that are consuming half a million acres and have prompted the evacuation of several communities.

"What kind of hosts are we if we expose them to something that could be more than they bargained for?" NHS integrated planning commissioner Patrick Robson said, according to QMI.

Jaynane Burning-Fields, executive director of the Niagara Regional Native Centre, didn't buy it, noting that the outbreak was relegated to hospitals.

"I don't believe that should be a barrier to coming to the Niagara region," she told QMI, though she also expressed surprise that people were being sent so far south.

The outbreak in three hospitals has caused at least 24 deaths, the NHS said. The Niagara Region is among several cities across Canada that have been asked to take in people displaced by the more than 100 fires. Other hosts include Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Fort Frances, Dryden, Geraldton and Red Lake.

Up north, fires continued to rage, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) said the situation was likely to continue for two to three weeks. Fire safety officials are working closely with First Nations to evacuate the elderly and those with chronic conditions or respiratory problems.

Stan Beardy, Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) on July 19 asked for a maximum of assistance from the governments of Canada and Ontario, even the military if necessary, so that people could be evacuated "at a moment's notice," he said in a statement. He also asked Ontario to declare a state of emergency.

“Many remote First Nations under imminent threat from these fires rely completely on air transportation," he said in a statement from NAN, which represents 49 First Nation communities. "There is a very real danger that heavy smoke from these fires could prevent aircraft from landing, making it impossible to get people out safely if an evacuation is ordered.”

With C. difficile outbreaks reported in three area hospitals, NHS officials said they’re afraid of exposing any evacuees to the microbe, given its eight-week gestation period. At least 24 people who contracted the superbug have died since late May, though it is still being determined whether the deaths were caused by the pathogen, QMI reported, as most of the patients had other health problems going in.

C. difficile is a bacterium whose symptoms range from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon, according to the Mayo Clinic. Older adults are most likely to be affected in hospitals and long-term care facilities. The infection can be triggered by antibiotic use, Mayo said.

The NHS said it consulted with Niagara Region Public Health and declared C. difficile outbreaks at St. Catharines General effective May 28 and its Greater Niagara General and Welland sites, effective June 23.

Meanwhile the fires show no signs of abating, the MNR said. Moreover, the problem was moving farther south, as lightning from thunderstorms in the mid-part of the province sparked dozens more fires, a spokesman said.