Massive out-of-control wildfire near Flin Flon forces evacuations

Residents 'on watch' as fire grows to 35,000 hectares in size, another large blaze burns nearby

A massive wildfire has swallowed up thousands of hectares of land near Flin Flon, and is making its way toward another northwestern Manitoba community.

A forest fire 38 kilometres long and 12 kilometres wide has moved within one kilometre of Cranberry Portage, located southeast of Flin Flon, the province said in its fourth fire bulletin on Sunday afternoon.

Residents from Cranberry Portage evacuated to The Pas after an order was issued Saturday night.

The blaze was first detected on Thursday and is deemed out-of-control on the province's wildfire map. It has grown to about 35,000 hectares (or 86,486 acres) thanks to high winds and drought conditions, up from the about 3,000 hectares (more than 7,400 acres) reported as of Saturday afternoon.

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The wildfire has caused intermittent power outages, and prompted the closure of Highway 10 from Highway 39 (south of Cranberry Portage) to Flin Flon. Sherridon Access Road, or Highway 800, is also closed at Highway 10.

The fire has also crossed a section of railway in the area, the province said, which could impact rail travel between Cranberry Portage and Pukatawagan, which is further north.

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Another out-of-control fire near the community of Wanless, which is north of The Pas but south of Cranberry Portage, has grown to about 1,500 hectares in size since it was first detected on Thursday.

Crews are trying to protect the hydro line between the latter two communities.

Both fires started due to natural causes.

CBC: A view of the wildfire north of Flin Flon from Schist Lake. The province issued an evacuation order to a number of homes and cottages in the area, a Saturday afternoon update said. (Submitted by Randy Whitbread)

A view of the wildfire north of Flin Flon from Schist Lake. The province issued an evacuation order to a number of homes and cottages in the area, a Saturday afternoon update said. (Submitted by Randy Whitbread)

Lori Forbes, the municipal emergency coordinator for the area, said as of Sunday morning, about 400 of the community's 700 or so residents had registered after evacuating.

"They're wanting to know when they can go home. They're wanting to make sure their house is OK. They're wanting to know how long this is going to take," said Forbes.

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"It's very stressful and very hard emotionally on people to leave their community. We're giving them the proper information as we hear it."

A registration site has been set up at the Wescana Inn in The Pas. Many evacuees are staying at hotels in The Pas, as well as Winnipeg and Brandon, Forbes said.

The province said emergency social services are also available to evacuees.

A reception centre has also been set up at the Victoria Inn in Flin Flon to help residents who have evacuated from other areas find accommodations. Those areas include:

  • Sourdough Bay subdivision.

  • Twin Lakes Cottage subdivision.

  • Whitefish Lake Cottage subdivision.

  • Schist Lake North Cottage subdivision.

  • Bakers Cottage subdivision.

  • Bakers Narrows Provincial Park.

Manitoba Hydro is also working to fix infrastructure that has led to communication outages in Flin Flon, Sherridon and Sourdough Bay between Flin Flon and Cranberry Portage, the province said.

In a social media post Sunday, the Crown corp. said the wildfire near Flin Flon has caused power outages in Cranberry Portage, Bakers Narrows and Sourdough Bay. It's not known when power will be restored.

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In an update Saturday afternoon, the province said it had also ordered homeowners and cottagers near Flin Flon to evacuate, and had warned others nearby to be prepared to leave. It also said officials closed off Sourdough Bay Road, east of Flin Flon, and evacuated the area around Sourdough Bay.

Niki Ashton, the MP for Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, said the situation is stressful for everyone.

May 12 national smoke unblurred

"People are literally on watch," she said.

"We've known for some time that there is a high risk of a bad fire season and we're seeing it already."

She said northern residents are braced for what the next few weeks might bring.

"This, to me, is a very clear sign that we need a national approach when it comes to fighting wildfires."

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Environment Canada has issued special air quality statements for parts of southern Manitoba, including Winnipeg, due to wildfire smoke. Conditions are expected to improve throughout the day Sunday.

The province said air tankers from Manitoba and Saskatchewan are trying to contain the fire, and crews from Ontario are expected to arrive Monday or Tuesday.

Thumbnail image credit to Bailey Anderson/Facebook via CBC News.

This article was originally written by Rachecl Ferstl and published for CBC News on Sunday, May 12. With files from Arturo Chang

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