‘Doesn’t seem real’: Homes, cottages destroyed in fires north of Winnipeg

Families who lost homes and cottages in wildfires north of Winnipeg are trying to come to terms with the devastation.

Friday dozens of fire fighters from Victoria Beach and nearby communities, along with waterbombers and other provincial fire crews responded to a fire in Traverse Bay.

Rural Municipality of Alexander Reeve Jack Brisco said five homes along with a few sheds were destroyed and the investigation is ongoing.

Susan George lost her cottage in the fire and saw the devastation for the first time Saturday afternoon.

After building the winter and summer getaway close to 40 years ago, her family made a lot of memories there, and now it has been reduced to ashes.

“It doesn’t seem real I guess, like I’m looking at someone else’s, not mine,” said George.

“My grandmother’s threadle sowing machine was in there, and that was the first machine and I learned to sow on.”

George doesn’t know if she’ll rebuild.

“I have to digest this first,” she said.

Victoria Beach Fire Chief Brad Patzer said one of the biggest culprits crews were up against were the large amount of poplar seeds or ‘poplar fluff’, bad this year because of dry conditions.

“I ha guys chasing the fluff and it was traveling as fast as the guys could walk, so we were running double time to stop it from going to other cottages,” he said.

Patzer said it’s getting drier and drier every year and people need to be more aware and more careful. A fire ban remains in effect.

READ MORE: Handful of homes burnt, dozens evacuated during fire in Traverse Bay

Assembly of First Nations Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart says his family home on nearby Sagkeeng First Nation was also destroyed in a second fire Friday.

Speaking with CTV News by phone, Hart said his family is in shock and the devastation hasn’t set in.

Hart said the hardest part was seeing his little girl crying.

“Where are we going to live daddy?” he said

In nearby Traverse Bay several cottages have been burnt to the ground because of another fire.

Hart said he has three older children, along with a nine and 12-year-old.

He said the most important thing was that his family is safe but the loss is still a shock.

“I’m taking my hat off as a leader. I have to focus on my family,” he said.

Hart said he is thankful to everyone who has reached out with messages of support.

FIRE RESOURCES

Hart said the fire was destructive due to a number of factors.

He said it was like a perfect storm in the sense it was very hot and windy and there were not enough hydrants or enough resources to stop it.

He said it’s frustrating because the fire resources to protect his home were in Traverse Bay.

Brisco confirmed with CTV News members of Sagkeeng First Nation helped fight the fire in Traverse Bay and he appreciates all their help.

He said at one point they were called back to help with another fire, and it’s awful to learn a home was destroyed.

In a statement to CTV News, a provincial spokesperson said Sagkeeng crews were an important part of the Victoria Beach response and upon hearing the request, the local crews returned to their community to respond.

“This is a reality in rural Manitoba when ‎multiple departments respond to assist their neighbours. There are only so many resources available,” the province said.

Brisco said there are no fire hydrants in Traverse Bay, they were running hoses down to the lake for water as well as using water tankers.

He said he was not aware of anything specifically getting in the way in terms of resources.

The province said Saturday the fire is contained and assessment of damages will occur in the coming days and weeks. The fire origin and cause remains under investigation.

“The combined effort between the local fire departments, mutual aid and provincial assistance helped to keep this loss from escalating. High winds were the primary issue in fighting the fire,” a provincial spokesperson said.

Evacuation orders were lifted around 2 p.m.