Hundreds of fridges and freezers in evacuated communities no longer safe to use
Published Tuesday, June 12, 2018 11:19AM CST
Last Updated Tuesday, June 12, 2018 6:06PM CST
Manitoba wildfire evacuees were on the move again Tuesday but they weren't headed home.
People from Little Grand Rapids First Nation staying in three city hotels were shocked to learn they would have to leave Winnipeg.
The notice came as the Canadian Red Cross prepares for their eventual return home which involves replacing hundreds of hazardous fridges and freezers, sitting in homes without power for weeks.
A letter posted on hotel room doors Tuesday morning gave evacuees just a few hours’ notice to pack their bags again, this time for Brandon, because of a lack of hotel rooms in Winnipeg.
"It felt like we were going through the fire evacuation again,” said wildfire evacuee Theresa Eischen.
She’s been staying in a Winnipeg hotel since May 24.
Three weeks ago, nearly 1500 people from Pauingassi First Nation and Little Grand Rapids were forced from their homes by a massive wildfire in a tense and urgent evacuation.
Canadian Red Cross senior manager of disaster management Cailin Hodder said it isn't unusual for people to move to different hotels during an evacuation.
"It is a disaster,” said Hodder. “It's an emergency situation.”
In this case, rooms opened up in Winnipeg after the letter was sent, meaning people could stay in the city, at least for now.
"It is disruptive and we want to eliminate that as best we can,” said Hodder. “We're working on every avenue and every angle we have to get people to stay where they are.”
Scotty Leveque said he's disappointed.
He wanted to go to Brandon but ultimately he just wants to go home.
"Looking forward to going back to Little Grand and see how the reserve, how damaged it is,” said Leveque.
Return home in the works
Tuesday’s frustration was mixed with a sliver of relief as a clearer picture emerged about when the evacuation may end.
Manitoba Hydro estimated crews could have electricity restored in Little Grand Rapids by June 22.
“Our work rebuilding the electric system continues, but remains dependent on weather, availability of materials and equipment and ensuring that when evacuees return home the restored electrical service is reliable,” Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen said in email.
Once the power is back on, the Red Cross said people will have to wait an additional week before they can go home.
The organization said there is still a lot of work to do to get the community back up and running.
Some of that work involves replacing hundreds of appliances.
Hodder said an environmental health officer has determined it's no longer safe to store food in fridges and freezers which have been without power during the evacuation.
"It's not only just about meat that's rotten at this point, but it's also about chemicals that are located in those appliances," said Hodder. “It’s critical to the safety of individuals when they return.”
She said the Red Cross is now working on a plan to transport more than 700 replacement units to the two fly-in communities.
Hodder said the replacement appliances will be transported by airplane to Little Grand Rapids.
From there, a helicopter will be used to move units to Pauingassi First Nation because there's no airstrip in that community.
Theresa Eischen is now staying with family instead of at a hotel.
"It feels like you're a tourist but you don't want to be a tourist," she said.
Eischen hopes her next destination will be home.