Forest fire evacuees staying in Portage

Forest fire evacuees staying in Portage

30 July 2012

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Canada–  As a result of forest fires in northern Manitoba, a number of evacuees from the St. Theresa Point First Nation area are now staying in Portage la Prairie until it is safe to return home.

Eleanor Friesen, from St. Theresa Point, was one of the evacuees staying in Portage at Canad Inns.

“We were (evacuated) last Wednesday,” she said. “There is a fire in the mainland, not far from the reserve … The fire is coming from the south-end and we are living in the north-end area. It is gradually going to the north.”

Friesen said smoke is the main concern for families, especially with members who have more health risks.

“The smoke is very thick,” she said. “What they were scared of is if the wind changes — the fire is going to come rapidly.”

Friesen came here with her husband and seven-year-old grandson, along with her mother who is in a wheelchair.

She said a number of children in the community were becoming sick from the smoke, so there was a need to evacuate them.

“One of the evacuees had to take her baby to the hospital, because the baby had high fever and was throwing up a lot,” Friesen said.

She added a number of people with chronic health problems especially needed to be evacuated.

“I am a diabetic and recently, last year, I was sick – I had a little heart attack,” she said.

“It’s pretty hard,” she added of the move. “We don’t know when we are going to go home.”

The Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters has been co-ordinating the evacuation of 67 people from St. Theresa Point First Nation and Garden Hill First Nation who are now in Portage. Other evacuees from Red Sucker Lake and Wasagamack were evacuated to Winnipeg and Brandon.

“Because of the smoke – this group were considered Priority 1,” said Daren Mini, executive director of the Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters. “They have medical conditions that are complicated from the smoke.”

Manitoba Conservation has been involved in organizing the efforts to control the forest fires.

“That fire is burning south of St. Theresa Point. It’s about 5,000 hectares. It has 35 firefighters, three bulldozers and two helicopters on it,” said Gary Friesen, manager of the fire program with Manitoba Conservation. “It’s been a very busy year with fires … because of all the heat.”

He added about 98 fires are currently burning in the province.

For the St. Theresa Point area, the wind is now blowing the fire away from the community at present, but that can change any day.


Donations are being accepted for the evacuated families who are now staying in Portage.

Any donations of new and gently-used toys and craft supplies for children can be dropped off at Canad Inns office, next to the registration desk.

As well, the Tupper Street Family Resource Centre will open up a Morning Family Pre-School Drop-in session for the evacuees. As some evacuees will require transportation to the centre, there is also a need for some community members who wish to volunteer to drive families from Canad Inns to the Tupper Street Family Resource Centre, and back in the mornings. They can call the resource centre at 857-9011 and ask for Sheila for details. A parent needs to be with the child to attend the program, and must phone in advance to register.

“We are happy to help out,” said executive director Cathy Vanstone, with Tupper Street Family Resource Centre.

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