Evacuations as fires rage in southern Manitoba
Erin Decoste and Kevin Scanlon, CTVNews.ca
Published Saturday, October 8, 2011 10:56PM EDT
Hundreds of homes have been evacuated as a wildfire threatens a Manitoba community, just as other evacuees were allowed to return home Saturday afternoon.
Up to 400 residents have been evacuated from the village of Sandilands and the nearby community of Woodridge as wind-whipped wildfires burn a couple of kilometres away.
Mike Purtill of the Manitoba Office of the Fire Commissioner said that fire crews are using heavy equipment to clear brush and prevent the blaze from jumping a highway and reaching Sandilands.
Earlier on Saturday, hot, dry conditions and winds of up to 90 kilometres an hour spread one brushfire near the town of Bissett across an area 40 km long and six km wide.
Purtill said that the winds have dropped to about 30 km/h on Saturday afternoon.
The fires have burned close to 190 square kilometres in southeastern Manitoba.
Fires also raged outside the southeastern Manitoba communities of Lac du Bonnet and Stuartburn, where a state of emergency was declared and 60 people were asked to leave for safety.
"We packed up the dogs and away we went," evacuee David Dublin told CTV News from a reception centre in Vita.
Residents of Stuartburn were allowed to return home on Saturday as well.
"It's moving enormously fast," said Purtill. "It's moving about a mile (1.6 km) every six minutes."
"But we haven't lost a building yet," he said. "We've got a pretty good handle on the situation now as to where the fire's going to go."
About 300 people who had been evacuated from the rural community of Marchand on Friday were allowed to return to their homes Saturday morning after a wind shift took the fire in another direction.
"From our point of view, it's back to normal," said Claude Lussier, the reeve of nearby La Broquerie, about 70 km southeast of Winnipeg. "The winds have gone down and they are all back in their homes."
Lussier said the severity of the fires was due to a combination of a very dry year when "even the river's dried up" and the high winds.
"It was like kindling," he said. "Nothing could stop it."
He also said the flames were not the major concern when deciding on who would be asked to leave.
"For human beings, it's the smoke that gets you, not the fire," the reeve said.
Officials say 75 firefighters from 10 communities and six water bombers had been battling the fires.
Damaging winds sweep through region
The Environment Canada said that high winds would continue to slow over the weekend, although there is no rain in the forecast until Monday.
In Winnipeg, the gale-force winds knocked over trees and downed power lines, leaving 3,000 people without electricity on Friday night.
Several vehicles were crushed by falling trees and the downtown streets were littered with toppled newspaper boxes and chunks of broken signs.