Rainy conditions help keep northwestern Manitoba fire at bay as residents begin to return

Rainy conditions combined with efforts from wildfire fighting crews have helped to keep a massive fire at bay as residents were invited back to their home communities in northwestern Manitoba over the weekend.

On Sunday, a group of residents were able to return to Cranberry Portage due to “favourable weather” and work by crews that have lessened the impacts from two fires in the area, according to the province.

“The fireline closest to Cranberry Portage is under control and crews continue to make good progress in other areas,” reads the latest Manitoba government wildfire update on Tuesday, after many parts of Manitoba saw rainfall over the May long weekend.

About 675 residents of Cranberry Portage and nearby communities were ordered to leave on May 11 as a fire, which has since grown to 37,000 hectares in size, neared the community, about 40 kilometres from Flin Flon. People from Sourdough Bay, Whitefish Lake, Twin Lakes and Schist Lake North were also able to return Sunday, the province said.

Barricades have been removed enabling vehicles to pass through Highway 10, which connects Cranberry Portage to the city of Flin Flon, and the Sheridon access road.

Train service has also been restored between Cranberry Portage and Pukatawagan First Nation.

The province said eight properties were lost to fires in Sourdough Bay, including one permanent residence, five cottages and two garages. Another permanent resident was destroyed in Twin Lakes, and aerial crews have identified a number of smaller structures believed to be damaged in some of the fire-threatened areas. 

The government news release says there have also been tips from people about drones flying over the fire and near airports in the area, which is illegal and dangerous.

Despite being allowed back, smoke persists in some of the communities. That’s why the province advises people heading back to minimize exposure to smoke by limiting time outdoors, keeping doors and windows closed in the home, and ensuring air conditioning units are set to recirculate inside air to avoid drawing smoke inside.

A second fire, near Wanless, north of The Pas, has grown to 2,785 hectares and is about 2½ km from Wanless. That blaze is about two kilometres from Highway 10, so the province says to be aware of poorer visibility on the road due wildfire smoke.

Emergency accommodations for evacuees at the Wescana Inn in The Pas and at the Victoria Inn in Flin Flon have been closed, the province said.

Those who primarily reside in the fire-affected communities and were forced to evacuate are eligible for a $200 evacuation allowance at Cranberry Portage Administrative Office, at 105 Portage Rd., until end of day on Friday, the province said. The cheques can also be picked up at 102-143 Main St. in Flin Flon beginning Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.

Campgrounds in Bakers Narrows an Grassy River provincial parks remain closed until at least May 27 — including Bakers Narrows, Gyles, Iskwasum Landing and Reed Lake. Back country travel alon Grassy River and Cranberry Portage to Reed Lake is prohibited, the province says, and Karst Spring trail is closed.

The province also reminds Manitobans camping and cottaging to follow local fire restrictions, make fires only in approved pits, monitor fires, don’t burn in windy conditions and ensure a fire is thoroughly soaked when you’re done.

Updates on the status of wildfires are available on the province’s website.