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Wildfires could start as early as this weekend in Manitoba due to dry conditions officials say

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Manitoba's wildfire services warns amid rising temperatures and drought conditions, flames could spark as early as the weekend. That's causing concern for one First Nation community still reeling from last year's wildfire fight.

The memories of the towering flames that cut off Pimicikamak Cree Nation (Cross Lake) are still fresh in the mind of Chief David Monias.

"I see the fire 100 feet in the air, all the embers flying towards our community," he said.

The wildfire cut off his community last May, forcing a massive emergency evacuation.

"We had to evacuate people 7,000 people in three hours," he said. "We were left to fend for ourselves, and a lot of times that's what happens, is that nobody is coming and running to save us."

Monias is worried it may happen again, and he's looking to the province for help.

"We just need to be better equipped. Right now, we have one fire truck in a community of 8,000 people," he told CTV News. "We need better resources. We need water and sewer (systems), so we can have fire hydrants."

This year the province has upped its spending for wildfire protection.

Manitoba is budgeting $8 million, which will cover the cost of five initial attack trucks used to transport crews to fire sites, and provide upgrades and new bunkhouses at wildfire program base stations across the province.

"These are the steps we're taking to make sure we're prepared for fire season in Manitoba," said Jamie Moses, Manitoba's minister of economic development, investment, trade and natural resources.

Those dollars may be put to use sooner than expected.

"By this coming weekend, we could expect to start getting some fires," Earl Simmons, the acting director of the Manitoba Wildfire Service told CTV News.

He said Manitoba typically sees more than 400 wildfires burning 250,000 hectares each year.

"Going into the spring, typically we find most of our fires are human-caused," Simmons said.

This year could be a busier year for the wildfire service, as much of the prairies remain in drought conditions according to Canada's Drought Monitor.

"Some of the predictions we're getting this year, because of the drought situation we went into last fall, is concerning. Especially on the west side of the province up towards the northwest corner."

It's an area that comes too close for comfort for Monias. He said, should flames threaten his community again, he wants the province to step up.

"Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. We have to do that, I mean there's so many lives at stake," he said.

Moses said he welcomes conversations with First Nations, and said the province wants to work with them.

"We've been working very collaboratively with northern communities who are the most impacted by wildfires. So we welcome those sorts of conversations that would enable us to protect Manitobans and do our part to fight against wildfires," he said.

If you see a wildfire, you can call 911 or the wildfire tip line at 1-800-782-0076. 

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