Smoke from forest fires forces hundreds to be evacuated

Smoke from forest fires forces hundreds to be evacuated

21 July 2011

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Canada — Hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes in northeastern Manitoba, as thick smoke from nearby forest fires blankets the region.

On Wednesday night, about 200 people – including elders and children with respiratory concerns – were evacuated from St. Theresa Point First Nation, which is about 600 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, along the shores of Island Lake.

The evacuation was precautionary, said Chief David McDougall, as forest fires burning in Ontario and Manitoba near the community are blowing smoke throughout the area. If the smoke gets worse, it could make emergency medical evacuations by air impossible, leading the community to take its most vulnerable residents to safety in Brandon.

“It doesn’t matter which direction the smoke is coming from, it hits the community,” McDougall said. “Right now we’re having a bit of reprieve, a bit of time when there’s no smoke, and then it will come in again.”

Earlier this week, the community also battled back against a forest fire that threatened the nursing station. That fire has since been extinguished.

McDougall said it is not yet clear how long the community may be at risk from the smoke.

Meanwhile, provincial and First Nation fire officials are on the look-out for possible fires started by a recent thunderstorm. “There’s a lot of anomalies that happen, especially with the hot, dry spells we’ve been having and the flash thunderstorms,” McDougall said.

“We were praying this wouldn’t happen. An evacuation of this sort comes every decade or so – we just hope there’s no fires close by the community.”

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