Fires spark evacuation order for three northern Manitoba First Nations
A large forest fire burning at the edge of a remote northern Manitoba Indigenous community has forced 2,000 residents to pile into boats and take a 20-minute ride in the darkness to a nearby reserve with an airstrip.
“Probably midnight, we were still transporting by boat,” Chief Alex McDougall of Wasagamack First Nation said Wednesday.
“Those boats that were equipped with navigation lights were going back and forth, ferrying the evacuees.”
One fire came within metres of some homes on the edge of Wasagamack and damaged roofs Tuesday afternoon before the winds changed.
Thick smoke blanketed the community and also prompted partial evacuations in nearby St. Theresa Point and Garden Hill. The Red Cross said residents with health concerns in those communities were flown south to Winnipeg and Brandon.
In all, some 3,700 people were being moved out of the region 600 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
There is no running water in the section of Wasagamack closest to the fire. Residents get water delivered by truck. Heavy equipment was moved into place to create a buffer from the fire.
“We’ve been very fortunate that the wind changed like it did (Tuesday evening). Otherwise we would have had our community engulfed in flames,” McDougall said.
Wasagamack has no airstrip, so people had to travel by water across Island Lake to St. Theresa Point and then be flown south.
A Red Cross spokesman said about 100 people had arrived in Winnipeg and Brandon by Wednesday morning and would be put up in hotels, depending on availability.
Judy Klassen, the legislature member who represents the area, said a few dozen people were to remain in Wasagamack to fight the fire and oversee the emergency response.
McDougall said the wind Wednesday was still blowing away from the community and the fire had not advanced any closer.
“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 by nearby forest fires.