'It's like a ghost town': Easterville, Chemawawin Cree Nation evacuated due to wildfires
Volunteers helping battle wildfires threatening Easterville and Chemawawin Cree Nation are busy monitoring hot spots around the central Manitoba communities.
The Manitoba Government said evacuation orders were issued by the two communities on Thursday.
Fire is 350 hectares. It's been held to the edge of town. About an hour ago, this plume of smoke was not visible. pic.twitter.com/BbpOAannnv— Josh Crabb (@JoshRCrabb) June 24, 2016
On Saturday morning, the Manitoba government tweeted that the fire had almost doubled in size.
Winds push Easterville and Chemawawin fire to about 650 ha. No injuries or losses reported. Rain forecast for area. Area remains evacuated.— Manitoba Gov News (@MBGovNews) June 25, 2016
Easterville is located about 450 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
The evacuation orders were prompted by smoke and the threat of a fire, which has moved to within half a kilometre of Easterville.
The Office of the Fire Commissioner is on site in Easterville and Chemawawin adding sprinklers to protect homes, although no structures have been damaged so far, the Manitoba government said in a tweet.
2000 people from Chemawawin have gone to Winnipeg, while another 70 people from Easterville have been forced from their homes and are staying in The Pas.
Volunteer firefighter Vincent Lachose said it's like a ghost town.
"We were out last night going door-to-door," said Lachose. "In the years I've lived here, I've never seen it his quiet."
He said thick, white smoke has filled the sky. He said volunteers are helping on the ground to try and prevent smaller fires from flaring up.
"We've still got a lot of hot spots," said Lachose. "It's unpredictable."
Chemawawin Fire Chief Fred Ledoux said the fire died down overnight, but thick smoke continues to hang over the community.
"There's still fire here, there and everywhere," said Ledoux. "There's small fires west of our community."
Ledoux said the fire got within about 500 yards of some homes, but so far he said there's been no damage.
About 200 residents have decided to stay in the community, but some are choosing to leave because of concerns about the smoke.
"We were pounding on doors all night. We have school buses ready to go to transfer them out of the community," said Ledoux.
Ledoux said as many as 50 volunteer firefighters have stayed in the community, but they'll only stay as long as it's safe.
"I've been telling the volunteers if they want to leave, they can get out of town," said Ledoux. "It's really smoky, it's burning the eyes."
He worries a shift in wind could cause flare-ups.
Chemawawin Cree Nation Chief Clarence Easter said the situation is "very stressing and tiring" for community members.
He said the fire burned further away from the community earlier in the week before the flames crept closer on Thursday
"It happened so fast. We had to react quickly," said Easter.
Evacuees in Winnipeg attempting to settle in
After receiving word of a mandatory evacuation, Melissa Houle drove her family south to Winnipeg through the night.
She is on one of the thousands staying in the city after escaping the fire near Easterville.
"I packed my bag and took all my nieces and nephews with me," she said.
Her cousin Arlene Young is also staying in a Winnipeg hotel with three kids, including a three-year-old girl with breathing problems.
"We'd rather be here than around smoke, it's unhealthy for her to be at home," Young said.
The Canadian Red Cross has already provided Young’s family and hundreds of others with food and clothing.
It is also making arrangements for those who need medical attention to see doctors.
-With files from Emad Agahi