Four Manitoba First Nations evacuating due to smoke from wildfires

Four First Nation communities in eastern Manitoba are being evacuated due to smoke and wildfires.

So far more than 1,300 people have been forced to leave their homes and that number is only expected to grow.

People from Pauingassi, Little Grand Rapids, Berens River and Bloodvein First Nations have been moved to hotels in southern Manitoba to escape thick smoke and flames.

“It got to that. It got to the feeling that everybody needed to leave,” said Virginia Thomas, an evacuee from Bloodvein.

She helped Monday to get people on buses in the community as the flames crept closer to the only road out.

“When the time came, we saw all the smoke, we saw the fire starting on the main road so that was very concerning,” Thomas said.

The Canadian Red Cross is supporting the evacuations.

The organization said partial evacuations shifted to full evacuations in Pauingassi and Little Grand Rapids. Evacuations are also now underway in Berens River and Bloodvein.

“Little Grand (Rapids) and Pauingassi and Bloodvein—they are staying in hotels in Winnipeg,” said Jason Small, a spokesperson for the Red Cross. “Some from Berens (River) are staying in Winnipeg and today those that are flying out are being flown to stay in hotels in Brandon.”

But not everyone wants to leave.

Shannon Nembhard remains in Bloodvein First Nation with her parents. She said they don’t want to leave behind their home and business but she said conditions appear to be deteriorating.

“The smoke is extremely thick,” Nembhard said in a phone interview. “Ash actually just started falling not too long ago. It’s getting more and more heavier, the ash … the lack of being to breathe properly.”

In Winnipeg, Xandra-Lee Pruden is offering to help people settle into hotels and support them in the city.

She has family members who’ve been forced to leave Bloodvein and understands the stress people are feeling brought on by the evacuation.

“We’ve seen a couple posts on Facebook they’re worried if everyone’s gotten out—kids, elders—asking where they are. I think it’s a really scary time,” said Pruden.

And now that many are in Winnipeg, Thomas is also helping people deal with the challenges of leaving home for the city.

“They’re very confused,” Thomas said. “Their emotions are all mixed up. Basically, I’m here to try and console everyone.”

There are 130 active fires in Manitoba.

The four First Nations are located in an area that was moved by the province Tuesday morning to level four fire restrictions which bans all travel in the area and means permanent residents must be ready to leave their homes on an hour’s notice.