Rain eases wildfire threat in northern Manitoba

There was some relief for Pimicikamak Cree Nation as rain has been falling throughout Thursday easing the threat of wildfire reaching the community.

“We had heavy rainfall last night and this morning and it put out the fire,” said Chief David Monias who took to the community radio station and Facebook to update residents on the situation.

“Not completely out, but it’s still smoldering, we can see smoke in some areas.”

It was a chaotic and frightening night for everyone as chief and council issued an evacuation order for the 7,000 people who live there.

The order came around 9 p.m., CT, and gave people just three hours to leave.

The wildfire had been burning south of Cross Lake, 550 km north of Winnipeg, since last week but jumped the river. There were fears the only highway out would be impassable.

Monias said they got welcome news from the government today.

“They have given us the approval for Cross Lake residents to return home that are healthy,” he said.

The fire, known as NO007, is one of five fires burning in Manitoba but is the only one that is out of control. According to the province, it was ignited by humans.

Monias urged people with breathing issues, such as asthma or COPD, and elders who had found accommodations elsewhere to rest up and not return in case there were flare-ups.

According to the Manitoba Wildfire Service, the wildfire danger in central and eastern Manitoba is high to extreme, and low to moderate across northern Manitoba. There are nine active wildfires currently burning in the province.

Hundreds to return home in Saskatchewan

Hundreds of wildfire evacuees in Saskatchewan are to return home as heavy smoke in the northern region appears to have subsided.

Community leaders say they have lifted most evacuation orders for Buffalo Narrows, Buffalo River Dene Nation and Ile-a-la-Crosse.

Air quality statements in those communities are rated as low risk as of Thursday afternoon.

Buffalo Narrows Mayor Sandy Ericson says most of the roughly 600 people who fled the area are expected to return home.

She says people with health issues or young children can still stay back in case they need supports.

Buffalo River Dene Nation Chief Norma Catarat says 411 people returned home as of Wednesday evening and more are expected to make their way back.

Catarat said 200 members are to remain in Lloydminster, where they are receiving supports.

She said those required to stay back either have health issues, are elders or have children under five years old.

The Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency is not expected to provide an update on Thursday.

The agency’s website says that as of Thursday afternoon, crews were battling 24 fires. Six of them are contained and three require crews to protect property.

Officials have said some rain and cooler temperatures have helped firefighters battle the flames.

The agency lifted a provincial fire ban on Wednesday, though northern communities continue to have local bans and restrictions in place.

The agency has been supporting hundreds of people from the region over the past week in Lloydminster, North Battleford and Regina.

Ericson said people in her community are feeling relieved to be able to return home.

“People are very happy,” she said. “It has been a long wait to come here and the air quality has improved significantly.”

Inspections to begin on First Nation due to wildfire in N.W.T.

The K’atl’odeeche First Nation says it is to begin inspecting buildings today on the reserve, but it is not yet safe for residents to return as a wildfire continues to burn.

About 3,500 residents from the reserve and nearby town of Hay River in the southern Northwest Territories were forced to leave their homes on May 14.

An evacuation order has been reduced to an evacuation alert in Hay River, meaning the general public can return, but people should be prepared to leave again if conditions worsen.

There are currently no fires in Hay River and no damage has been reported in the town.

More than a dozen buildings have been damaged by fire on the K’atl’odeeche First Nation, including its band office, and it says there are flare-ups in the community.

The First Nation says before residents can return, it needs to restore power, water and sewer services; complete environmental assessments for issues such as fuel spillage, and assess the safety of homes.

The First Nation is encouraging residents to stay where they are as entry to the reserve will be restricted to essential workers, there is no evacuation centre in Hay River and no hotel accommodations are available in the town. An evacuation centre is open in Yellowknife.

The territory said Thursday that the previously out-of-control wildfire is now classified as being held, meaning it is not expected to grow under current conditions. It was last mapped at about 32 square kilometres.

Crews continue efforts to prevent the fire from spreading, including blacklining or extinguishing fuel in front of control lines.

“It is not a certainty that fires which are being held remain that way forever. Vigilance is needed going forward to maintain that status,” N.W.T. Fire says in a Facebook post.

Officials report progress on Alberta wildfires

Officials in Alberta say there has been significant progress in the fight against wildfires in the province due to rain, cooler weather and the efforts of firefighters.

Several evacuated communities have announced re-entry plans this week while others are preparing for residents to return.

That includes the Shiningbank area of Yellowhead County, the Town of Swan Hills, Fox Creek and the municipal district of Lesser Slave River.

Alberta remains under a provincial state of emergency and there are 11 evacuation orders still in place.

An estimated 7,243 people remain displaced from their homes.

The Edmonton reception centre closed Tuesday and the one in Calgary will be ceasing operations this afternoon, but eight other reception centres remain open for affected areas.

Mental health resources are also available for people affected by the wildfires.

Bre Hutchinson, executive director of provincial operations with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, says some communities are still under threat from wildfires and local officials need to make sure critical infrastructure has been restored before people can return home.

“We know that all evacuees want to get home as quickly as possible,” she said during a news conference Wednesday. “Emergency officials are working hard to fight these fires but the situation is extremely challenging and safety is always their top priority.”

There were 55 wildfires burning in Alberta at the time this article was posted, 18 of which were out of control. So far this year, 523 wildfires have burned more than 10,310 square kilometres of land in the province.

Christie Tucker with Alberta Wildfire said the province welcomed a Hercules air tanker from California on Wednesday, which has the capacity to hold more than 11,350 litres of water. This week, 25 firefighters from New Zealand and nearly 200 from Australia are also expected to arrive in Alberta to help fight the wildfires.

“The season isn’t over,” Tucker said. “We’re planning for what will be needed over the coming months to extinguish the large, complex wildfires that we’ve had this year.”

With files from the Canadian Press 

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