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Northwestern Manitoba Town Evacuated Due to Encroaching Wildfire

June 27, 2023 5:21 PM | The Canadian Press

By The Canadian Press

Thompson Regional Community Centre

The Thompson Regional Community Centre has been set up as a temporary shelter to receive up to 350 residents of Leaf Rapids who were being evacuated as a result of an out-of-control wildfire within 8 kilometres of the community. (CITY OF THOMPSON / FACEBOOK)

LEAF RAPIDS, Man. — Hundreds from a northwestern Manitoba town are displaced due to an encroaching wildfire that could threaten access to power.

Leaf Rapids declared a state of emergency early Monday evening and directed its roughly 350 residents to head about 200 kilometres southeast to the city of Thompson. Evacuees began arriving there later that night.

Dawn Halcrow is one of the few in the area who stayed behind. She is the owner of Churchill River Lodge, a fishing and hunting lodge just north of Leaf Rapids.

Once the fire started to get closer to the town, Halcrow packed up her clients and offered her space to firefighting crews.

“We’ve got pumps and sprinklers around our building. Gassed them up this morning and fired them up. Someone’s got to watch them,” Halcrow said by phone Tuesday.

“I’m gonna stay here until I absolutely can’t.”

Halcrow first reported the fire to the province about two weeks ago. Over the past three days the fire sparked up, eventually crossing over nearby Atlo Lake, said Halcrow.

“It’s definitely nerve-racking. There are a lot of crews dispatched on this fire. We’re hoping that they can get this under control.”

The Manitoba government said the fire is about eight kilometres east of Leaf Rapids and three kilometres north of the Ruttan Mine, which has been fully evacuated. The fire is 105 square kilometres in size.

Emergency crews with the province are setting up sprinklers and hoses in the community and at some nearby cabins.

The City of Thompson said in a social media post that 200 cots were set up at a local arena for those who weren’t able to stay with family or friends.

A limited number of hotel rooms were allotted to priority evacuees, including the elderly, those with health conditions and families with young children.

“The plan is for Thompson to serve as a temporary evacuation centre for Leaf Rapids residents,” the city said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

As of noon Tuesday, the province registered 292 evacuees from 125 households, a spokesperson for the Manitoba government said in a statement.

Over the last 24 hours there has not been any significant movement of change to the size of the wildfire, the spokesperson added.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, an advocacy group that represents some northern First Nations and has an office in Thompson, is working with the city to assist evacuees. Staff with the organization provided meals for evacuees and helped pick up essentials.

Leaf Rapids said in a social media post that the wind direction is expected to change and affect air quality in the region.

The community still had power as of Monday night but some hydro poles had been damaged, the City of Thompson said.

“Measures to help protect buildings in the communities, such as sprinklers and fire breaks, are being employed,” the post said.

As of Tuesday, there were 43 active wildfires with four new ones. Wildfires for this time of year are considered low with a total of 147 to date, while the average is 170.

— By Brittany Hobson in Winnipeg

CP - The Canadian Press