Fires spark evac­u­a­tion or­der for three north­ern Man­i­toba First Na­tions

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA -

Some 2,000 res­i­dents of a re­mote Man­i­toba Indige­nous com­mu­nity took turns pil­ing into boats in the dark­ness as they fled a large for­est fire that raced to­ward their homes.

They were evac­u­ated in small groups, late into Tuesday night, for a 20-minute boat ride to a nearby re­serve that has an airstrip, where they were to wait for a flight 600 kilo­me­tres south to Bran­don or Win­nipeg.

“Prob­a­bly mid­night, we were still trans­port­ing by boat,” Chief Alex McDougall of Wasaga­mack First Na­tion said Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

“Those boats that were equipped with nav­i­ga­tion lights were go­ing back and forth, fer­ry­ing the evac­uees.”

The fire, 770 square kilo­me­tres in size, came within 800 me­tres of some homes on the edge of Wasaga­mack and re­mained there Wed­nes­day, the Man­i­toba gov­ern­ment said.

“Man­i­toba’s wa­ter bombers worked on this fire un­til yes­ter­day evening with only lim­ited suc­cess be­cause dense smoke pre­vented the air­craft from ap­proach­ing the fires,” Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Min­is­ter Rochelle Squires said Wed­nes­day.

Smoke from the fire also prompted a par­tial evac­u­a­tion of peo­ple with health con­cerns from two other First Na­tion com­mu­ni­ties — St. Theresa Point, where the Wasaga­mack evac­uees were first taken, and Gar­den Hill.

The Red Cross, which was man­ag­ing the evac­u­a­tions for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, was search­ing for more air­planes to help trans­port a to­tal of up to 3,700 peo­ple from the three re­serves to the south. The small airstrips in St. Theresa Point and Gar­den Hill mean only small planes, car­ry­ing 40 to 45 peo­ple each, can be used.

“We’re work­ing with the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to source planes and to speed up the evac­u­a­tion,” said Cana­dian Red Cross re­gional vice-pres­i­dent Shawn Feely, who es­ti­mated 1,200 peo­ple were likely to make it south by the end of the day.

The agency was also plan­ning to set up a large emer­gency shel­ter in Win­nipeg, if needed, be­cause ho­tels are close to ca­pac­ity in the sum­mer tourist sea­son.

Wa­ter bombers were bring brought in from the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries, Min­nesota and On­tario to fight the Wasaga­mack fire and other blazes that have cropped up fol­low­ing weeks of hot, dry weather.

A 46-square-kilo­me­tre fire was within 3.5 kilo­me­tres of Po­plar River, where res­i­dents had been evac­u­ated ear­lier as a pre­cau­tion. A smaller blaze was re­ported six kilo­me­tres from the Fox Lake First Na­tion.

The Wasaga­mack fire re­mained the big­gest con­cern Wed­nes­day. McDougall said the winds that had driven the fire close to the com­mu­nity had switched, and the fire had not made any fur­ther ad­vance as a hand­ful of of­fi­cials re­mained at the scene. Heavy equip­ment had been placed as a buf­fer be­tween the fire and the clos­est homes.

“We’re con­tin­u­ing to mon­i­tor that area, so hope­fully the wind will con­tinue to co-op­er­ate.”


Man­i­toba MLA Judy Klassen pro­vided this im­age show­ing a large for­est fire seen burn­ing near Wasaga­mack First Na­tion in north­ern Man­i­toba on Tuesday. The Red Cross is work­ing to carry out the evac­u­a­tion of three north­ern Man­i­toba com­mu­ni­ties threat­ened...

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