Evacuations continue as growing fire forces airlift of hundreds from eastern Manitoba First Nations

Evacuations continue as growing fire forces airlift of hundreds from eastern Manitoba First Nations

Hundreds more evacuees are expected to be flown from fire-threatened eastern Manitoba First Nations Thursday as a blaze nearly half the size of Winnipeg continues to burn toward the communities.

“It’s obviously a very stressful time,” Red Cross spokesperson Jason Small said.

The Red Cross, Armed Forces and a series of small planes helped take more than 600 people from Little Grand Rapids and 45 from Pauingassi First Nation Wednesday as a wildfire greater than 20,000 hectares in size moved towards them. 

Another 500 people from Little Grand Rapids and 250 from Pauingassi are expected to be flown out Thursday.

A small group gathers in Little Grand Rapids as the nearby forest fire spews ash and smoke into the sky. (Submitted by Theresa Eischen)

Small said planes started flying people out again early Thursday morning after a break overnight.

Thick smoke from the fire delayed evacuations on Wednesday.

Hazy skies continue to pose issues for large planes, Small said, especially in Pauingassi, where helicopters and small float planes have helped get people out because the community doesn’t have an airstrip. In many cases, the smaller aircraft are shuttling groups to Red Lake, Ont., where people are then boarding Armed Forces Hercules planes to be flown to Winnipeg.

Commercial airplanes are also helping to ferry people from the communities to Winnipeg, said Red Cross regional vice-president Shawn Feely.

Fires approach Little Grand Rapids, Man., on Tuesday. (Province of Manitoba)

Pauingassi and Little Grand Rapids are less than 20 kilometres apart and about 260 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg near the Ontario border.

Unusually dry spring conditions have prompted weeks-long burn bans and contributed to the spread of more than 160 fires in Manitoba this spring. The majority of the fires have been caused by human activity.

The Little Grand Rapids fire was human caused, the Manitoba government said.

People in parts of Manitoba’s Interlake region, between Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba, were also forced to leave this week due to fires.

Small said a small number of people who left Kinonjeoshtegon First Nation (also known as Jackhead), 225 kilometres north of Winnipeg, are expected to be able to return home Thursday.

Roughly 700 evacuees from Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, about 400 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, remain in hotels in Brandon, Swan River and The Pas. A fire forced them to leave the community on Sunday and Monday.

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Published at Thu, 24 May 2018 09:55:17 -0400