‘EXTREME FIRE’: Hundreds evacuated as blaze closes in on northwest Manitoba town

Several images have been shared online of a massive wildfire that began on Saturday and forced the complete evacuation of the town of Cranberry Portage in northwestern Manitoba. Facebook photo PHOTO BY FACEBOOK /Facebook

Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Winnipeg Sun

A raging wildfire brought chaos to a northwestern Manitoba town over the weekend, forcing hundreds of residents to flee their homes with little warning as the blaze closed in.

According to the province, a combination of drought conditions and high winds allowed a forest fire near Cranberry Portage, a community located in the RM of Kelsey, to burn out of control beginning on Saturday, and threaten the community that is home to approximately 600 residents.

“It’s a very, very chaotic thing to have everyone leave their homes so suddenly,” RM of Kelsey emergency coordinator Lori Forbes said on Monday. “It was very emotional and very hard for a lot of people out here.”

The fire, according to the province, grew to as large as 38 kilometres long and 12 kilometres wide, and moved to within one kilometre of Cranberry Portage on Saturday, forcing an evacuation of all residents in the community located about 40 kilometres southeast of Flin Flon.

Forbes said it was around 7 p.m. on Saturday that officials realized how dangerous the fire had become, and that it was necessary to get everyone out of their homes and out of the community as quickly as possible.

“It started around 7 p.m. on Saturday, and we were evacuated by around 10 p.m., and although it was tough on a lot of people, the evacuation we feel went as smoothly as possible.”

As of Monday afternoon the community remained evacuated, and officials were not yet saying when residents might be able to go back home, as the fire continued to burn.

Forbes said evacuees are either staying with friends or family, or now temporarily living in hotel rooms in communities including Flin Flon, The Pas, and Thompson, and many are now wondering when they can go home, or if they will even have a home to go home to.

“There are just all kinds of emotions coming out right now,” Forbes said. “This is very stressful for a lot of people.”

An evacuee registration site has been established at the Wescanad Inn in The Pas, where evacuees from Cranberry Portage can register and arrange for accommodations.

Air tankers from Manitoba and Saskatchewan have been fighting the fire, and five additional crews from Ontario were expected to arrive on Monday to assist fighting the blaze.

The province was also warning that as the fire continued to burn there could be additional evacuations in the area, as on Monday afternoon it was burning approximately 2.5 kilometres away from Cranberry Portage, and also threatening the communities of Sourdough Bay, Whitefish Lake, Twin Lakes, and Schist Lake North.

“There is extreme fire behaviour in the area caused by drought conditions and high winds,” the province said. “People in the surrounding areas are being asked to be prepared to leave if the situation worsens.”

In a Monday media release, the RM of Kelsey said crews continued to fight the fire and to protect Cranberry Portage from possible devastation.

“Water Bombers are working actively with crews on the ground and heavy equipment to contain the fire,” the RM said.

“Again, we advise residents to have their 72-hour essential family needs together and their 72-hour plan for accommodations prepared just in case.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.