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Northern Manitoba community evacuates due to wildfire; some starting to return home

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Some people are starting to return home Thursday after a wildfire burning near a northern Manitoba community prompted emergency evacuations of more than 7,000 people Wednesday night.

Pimicikamak Cree Nation community members began fleeing the community as a fire burned roughly two to three kilometres south of the community, according to a bulletin from the province. Photos and videos from the community show a long line of vehicles heading to other locations.

A line of vehicles is seen leaving Pimicikamak Cree Nation due to a fire on May 24, 2023. (Source: Precious Umpherville)

In an interview on Thursday, Chief David Monias credited the emergency response team the community had created during the pandemic as one of the reasons they had a successful evacuation. The team worked to secure vehicles and school buses to help people who couldn’t travel to easily evacuate.

 

“We were used to working together and evacuating people and moving a large number of people,” he said.

A wildfire burns in Cross Lake, Man. on May 24, 2023. (Image source: David Monias)

Monias said residents have gone to Thompson, The Pas and Brandon. Others went to Winnipeg, but have yet to secure hotel accommodations.

He said the community had been monitoring the fire over several days, noting it flared up significantly on Wednesday, and he was worried about what could happen to the community.

“Fires are very unpredictable,” Monias said. “There was a point we were worried about the community, but we were more worried about people’s lives."

Monias added that rain in the forecast was helping improve the wildfire situation in the area, and that people could begin returning home.

“We're trying to bring people home now. People that are healthy, that don't have asthma or COPD, or respiratory problems,” he said.

The wildfires are closing in on Cross Lake. (Source: Dustin Ross)He added, “We're confident that the people will be safe coming back. There's still some smoke lingering in the air, but we have a little bit of rain. So thank God for that. Our prayers were answered.”

 

The City of Thompson said it is coordinating an emergency response to the evacuation and redeploying staff to help. The Thompson Regional Community Centre (TRCC) is being used for evacuees.

“The first evacuees arrived around 3:30 a.m. and hundreds more have been incoming since, with more than 1,000 Cross Lake residents at the TRCC as of 8 a.m.,” a statement from the city posted on social media says.

“The City of Thompson and the School District of Mystery Lake are attempting to find mats for evacuees to sleep on as the Red Cross does not have emergency response materials in the north and will have to ship them up from Winnipeg.”

The city says the TRCC is expected to remain closed until the evacuation ends and displaced residents can return home.

 

A wildfire has prompted an evacuation of 7,000 people from Cross Lake, Man. (source: Dustin Ross)

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