Forest fires forcing hundreds of evacuations from five Manitoba First Nations

WINNIPEG — Forest fires and smoke in Manitoba have forced the evacuations of hundreds of residents in five First Nations, including Lake St. Martin, Little Saskatchewan, Dauphin River, Pinaymootang and Skownan First Nations.

“Overnight, the Red Cross was activated to support five First Nations in Manitoba that had to evacuate community members due to proximity of wildfires,” said Jason Small of the Canadian Red Cross.

Currently, there are several wildfires burning across the province, including one in the R.M. of Grahamdale and one in Homebrook.

Small noted that evacuees from four of the First Nations are staying at hotels in Winnipeg, and evacuees from Skownan are staying in Dauphin.

“These hotels have been set up,” he said.

“We got the people into hotels overnight and then we’re registering them this morning.”

Small said they are still working out the exact number of evacuees, but noted it’s about 300 people from Lake St. Martin, 200 people from Little Saskatchewan, more than 100 people from Pinaymootang, and about 150 people from Skownan. He did not provide an estimate for the number of evacuees from Dauphin River.

He noted that Red Cross has also been helping Misipawistik Cree Nation but doesn’t know if any other communities will need to be evacuated. As of Wednesday, residents of Misipawistik Cree Nation have been able to return to their homes.

COVID-19 AND EVACUATIONS

Small said that for more than a year, the Red Cross has been preparing how it will handle evacuations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A big part of that for us is that a lot of our work now is done virtually or contactless,” he said.

“We do have some people on the ground. They’re providing supplies, but they’re doing that in more of a contactless way through physical distancing and making sure that we’re wearing the proper PPE if necessary.”

He said the Red Cross is still making sure the First Nations get all the support they need.

“Our main role is providing support once they leave their home community,” Small said.

“That’s setting up the lodging, making sure they have food, making sure they have any other supplies they need or any other support they need outside of their community.”

– With files from CTV’s Nicole Dube and Rachel Lagace.

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