RCMP said the body of a 78-year-old man was found inside a burned-out shed near Portage la Prairie on April 26, following a grass fire.

The man was identified by those who knew him as John Froese.

Friends close to him are in mourning.

"There (were) about a dozen of us around the coffee table this morning, talking about John and our mutual sense of loss and what we imagine is going to be felt in the community," said Ray Willms, pastor of the Portage Alliance Church.

Willms said Froese was a beloved member of the church congregation.

Fire officials said Froese may have been cleaning his yard when a grass fire spread quickly to nearby trees and a shed at the back of the property.

The farmer's body was discovered inside the shed after firefighters extinguished the blaze. Crews were on scene around 2 p.m., and it took close to two hours to put out the fire southeast of Portage la Prairie.

Fire officials said the victim's wife had become worried earlier.

"She hadn't seen her husband for awhile – last time she'd seen him he had been working out on the tractor in the area of the cattle shed that was involved (in the fire)," said Dave Holmes, Portage la Prairie's deputy fire chief.

Officials said they've seen a spike in grass fires in the region.

"We've got a lot of dry conditions and a lot of dry fuel and couple that with the winds that we've been having – we have notably seen a lot more grass fires this season," said Holmes.

While there is not currently a burn ban in effect in the RM of Portage la Prairie, officials are asking people to be very careful.

There have been about 50 grass and wildfires in the area this spring.

- with a report from CTV's Caroline Barghout