'We have to be ready': Residents could be forced to evacuate amid fire in southeast Manitoba

Residents of Woodridge and Sandilands are carefully watching firefighters as an out-of-control-wildfire burns a few kilometres away.

The reeve of the R.M. of Piney said evacuations may have to be called “on a moment’s notice” due to a fire in southeast Manitoba.

“We have to be ready for that,” said Wayne Anderson, Reeve of Piney, on Monday morning.

The fire broke out over the weekend between the Manitoba communities of Sandilands and Woodridge. It is estimated to be between 800 and 900 hectares in size.

Anderson noted cold winds and cool temperatures have helped to slow the growth of the fire.

“There will be lots of hotspots, which will be burning for quite a few days. It could flare up at any time."

According to a recent update from the RM of Piney, firefighters are holding the perimeter now, but it remains just mere kilometres from Woodridge and Sandilands.

The town, however, is taking comfort in knowing firefighters are hard at work keeping it away.

Juliana Gagnon lives on a property about one kilometre away from the fire, and has been keeping a close eye on the fire.

“I stayed up because if the fire come this way it could jump,” she said. “When I saw how hard the fire crew was working I told (my husband), ‘Oh man, they were just giving her.’”

Gagnon said she feels safe with fire crews on scene. To say thanks, she brought them some treats to eat on Monday morning.

Kelly Dorvault, who lives in Woodridge, said he isn’t worried either after seeing the crews.

“Every couple of minutes there’s bombers going. You look up and there they are again,” Dorvault said.

SPECTATORS GETTING IN THE WAY, PROVINCE SAYS

On top of the challenges with fighting the fire, the province said spectators are getting in the way.

"It is dangerous, because people may inadvertently get in the way or worse get caught if the fire turns unexpectedly," a provincial spokesperson told CTV News in a statement. 

(CTV News Photo Scott Andersson)

To help keep people away and prevent further fires, the province is enacting new restrictions for provincial parks south of the 53rd parallel.

READ MORE: Fire restrictions in place in multiple Manitoba parks

The RM of Piney said it will remain in a state of emergency.

So far, there hasn’t been any damage to any buildings and no injuries have been reported.

'SIGNIFICANT DROUGHT SITUATION' IN SOUTHEASTERN MANITOBA

As crews continue to try to contain the blaze in Sandilands Provincial Forest, Environment Canada says conditions are going to remain dry.

“According to the Canadian Drought Monitor, southeastern Manitoba is in extreme drought. There’s only one level ahead of that, that’s exceptional drought," said Sara Hoffman, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

"So it’s a pretty significant drought situation."

The weather service expects dry conditions to continue well into the summer, meaning the risk of fires is high.

“Luckily, we are getting into a little bit more of wet conditions. May into June still have the possibility of those lasting, sort of stalling rain systems," Hoffman said.

The Red Cross recommends people should take note of the risks associated with where they live and create an evacuation plan.

“Make sure you have everything kind of planned out in advance so you don’t have to be doing it in a time of stress,” said Alison Everitt, the provincial manager of emergency management at the Canadian Red Cross.

Everitt said the plan should include knowing where you’d go, how you’d get there, knowing what routes you’d take and knowing how to contact friends and family to let them know you’re safe.

The Red Cross also recommends people make a preparedness kit.

“A preparedness kit is really important because a lot of times evacuations can happen quickly and you’re not going to have enough time to make one in the moment,” said Everitt.

Everitt said preparedness kits should be tailored to each family and include things like pet food, cash, water and important documents.

As for Woodridge residents, they’ll have to wait to see if evacuations are needed as fire crews give their best effort to control the fire. 

WHAT COMES NEXT

Anderson said they’ve set up fire lines, and are concentrating efforts on the burning edges closest to settlements.

“The water bombers and the helicopter are all working and it seems to be going good so far,” he said.

He said visibility is not bad, but changing wind conditions could cause poor visibility on the roads.

“That’s why we want people to stay away from there,” he said.

“Plus they’re dropping water with waterbombers, you don’t want water to land on people.”

The R.M. of Piney is posting updates of the situation on its Facebook page. The community remains under a state of local emergency.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but the province’s fire tracker shows it was sparked by human activity.

- With files from CTV’s Nicole Dube and Katherine Dow.

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