Hundreds of Manitobans flee from encroaching forest fires

Hundreds of Manitobans flee from encroaching forest fires    

09 October 2011

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Canada — Forest fires burned in southeastern Manitoba over the weekend, forcing hundreds of residents from their homes.

Evacuation orders had been lifted by late Sunday afternoon for Caliento, Lonesand, Woodridge, Marchand and Stuartburn. But residents of one community, Sandilands, still aren’t allowed home.

Susana Martens packed her things and left Marchand in the middle of the night on Friday when the town was ordered to evacuate.

“You could see a wall of orange and the fire got to be about three miles from my place,” she said. She signed in at an evacuee centre at the local arena before going to her daughter’s home in a nearby town.

Residents were allowed back after about a day, when the threat of nearby fires subsided. For the time she was gone, Ms. Martens said she worried about her dogs and cats that she left behind and her sons who didn’t evacuate.

“That concerned me, I didn’t sleep,” she said.

On Sunday, Ms. Martens was back to work as a cashier at the Marchand Grocery store. The fire has changed directions now, she said, but smoke has drifted into the community.

She said she’s seen evacuated Sandilands residents as they make their way through. Many have been driving during the day and sleeping in their cars instead of fleeing to evacuee accommodation in Winnipeg, more than a two-hour drive away from Sandilands.

On Sunday morning, Reeve Duane Boutang of Piney, said he was hoping his 400 residents from Sandilands and Woodridge would be able to return home that day. But only Woodridge made it back on Sunday.

“Everybody’s anxiously awaiting to come home,” he said. “It’s very unusual. Unfortunately in our area, we haven’t had any significant amount of rain since the first of June.”

So far there haven’t been any reports of property damage, he said.

No new fires started on Sunday, according to the provincial government. One fire near Bissett at Long Lake is 18,000 hectares and has 116 firefighters and support staff battling it. From the air, eight helicopters and a water bomber are trying to douse the flames.

The cooler, less windy weather on Saturday and Sunday helped firefighters gain control of the Stuartburn fire.

Some highways began to reopen after they were closed earlier in the week in areas deemed too close to the fires or thick smoke.

Leonard Chopp, a bison farmer from Vita, has been watching road closings and the fires intently, hoping neither will encroach on his business.

He has more than 100 animals and he said they can get spooked if they have to be moved suddenly.

“This morning, the smoke was really in the air,” he said before going to check out how close the fire was to his farm.

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