Officials keeping an eye on wildfire conditions as hot, dry weather envelopes Manitoba

Manitoba’s wildfire season got off to an earlier start this year, and now hot, dry conditions are causing some concerns.

Several large wildfires broke out across the province in May and June, including in and around Winnipeg, in the Whiteshell area, and in the R.M. of Piney.

“It was very scary for us,” said Reeve Wayne Anderson.

“It came within two and a half kilometres of settlement centres, so that was not a good thing, but we do live in a forested area out here. It’s a very beautiful area to live in, but when it gets dry, there is a danger of forest fires.”

On top of drought conditions, the province is currently in the midst of a heatwave with daytime highs in the mid-to-upper-30s.

The heat dome moved into Manitoba after wreaking havoc in British Columbia, where the village of Lytton was destroyed by a fire just days after shattering heat records.

This hot, dry weather in Manitoba is adding to the wildfire risk.

“We can see it being a very busy July and into August,” said David Schafer, director of the Manitoba Wildfire Service.

“We really need some significant rainfall right across the province, in particular, the south and central regions where we’ve been in those drought conditions to really change the situation.”

So far, there have been 122 fires in Manitoba this season, which is lower than the 20-year average, however, many have been significant.

“It’s been a challenging spring season, with a lot of large fires all occurring at once through that mid-May period, that kept us busy throughout May and a good part of June,” said Schafer.

These conditions are also causing stress for farmers, with crops suffering as a result, though Keystone Agricultural Producers vice president Jake Ayre said it’s not time to panic yet.

“I would say if we see a continued pattern without moisture, things could potentially change, but I mean, in farming and in agriculture, that’s the battle we’re constantly facing,” said Ayre.

“It’s never just the right amount of moisture.”

The R.M. of Piney is keeping a close eye on these conditions, but is remaining optimistic.

“We are drying out quickly here because of the heat. There will be problems in the near future, but fortunately, we have a little cooler temperatures forecast next week and maybe a little bit of rain too,” said Anderson.

The Manitoba Wildfire Service said it is now seeing a number of fires started by lightning, primarily east of Lake Winnipeg, so it is focusing its efforts there. It is also monitoring a number of large wildfires just across the border in Ontario.