Caddy Lake fire keeps growing despite rainfall

Rain in Manitoba's Whiteshell region has not put a damper on a wildfire that continues to grow near Caddy Lake on Wednesday.

Wildfire at Beresford Lake also expanded on Wednesday

Ontario fire crews captured this aerial view of the Caddy Lake wildfire on Tuesday afternoon. (Ontario Northwest Region Forest Fire Management Centre)

Rain in Manitoba's Whiteshell region has not put a damper on a wildfire that continues to grow near Caddy Lake on Wednesday.

The fire burning northeast of the lake near the Manitoba-Ontario border grew in size from 5,100 hectares late Tuesday to more than 5,800 hectares on Wednesday, thanks to high winds pushing flames to the north.

"That fire was pushed by strong southeasterly winds, so it grew in size. The current size is 5,829 hectares," said Gary Friesen, manager of the wildfire program with Manitoba's Department of Sustainable Development.

When asked if rainfall overnight and on Wednesday morning was of any help, Friesen said it helped a bit.

"The rain we did get was very light and it was very spotty in terms of actual precipitation over the entire affected areas," he said. "So it does help, but it doesn't give you that knock-out punch."

Friesen said he would like to see "the more the better" in terms of precipitation, but he added, "The only thing that actually puts out the fire are the crews on the ground."

High winds remain a concern at this time, he added.

"That's the only concern and why the fire grew yesterday," he said. "Today they're lighter but they're still a concern."

A map showing the extent of the Caddy Lake/Kenora fire on Wednesday. (Manitoba Conservation Wildfire Program website)

Ontario has been leading firefighting efforts on the Caddy Lake fire, which is known as Kenora Fire 018 in that province.

"Crews are really continuing to make progress, but Kenora Fire 018 still remains not under control," said Karen Passmore, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Passmore said the region received about three millimetres of rain, most of which fell on Wednesday morning, and that along with cooler temperatures and higher relative humidity values have made some difference.

"The fire hasn't exhibited any growth today, and none is expected for the next 24-hour burning period," she said in an email.

Another wildfire that straddles the Manitoba-Ontario border, in the Beresford Lake area, grew from 56,000 hectares to about 73,000 hectares on Wednesday.

That fire covers part of Nopiming Provincial Park in Manitoba and Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in Ontario.

This map shows the extent of the fire at Beresford Lake, Nopiming Provincial Park and Woodland Caribou Provincial Park on Wednesday. (Manitoba Conservation Wildfire Program website)

'Minor damage' only

Despite the growth, no cottages or homes in the area were lost overnight.

About 100 officials are working to protect cabins and properties in the affected areas. Only "minor damage to a small number of sheds has been reported at this time," the Manitoba government said in its fire update Wednesday.

A total of 38 people have been forced out of their cottages and homes in the region, the province said.

Manitoba's new Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox responded to concerns from some residents that they have not been receiving fire updates quickly enough.

"My heart goes out to them and it's a huge issue," Cox said at the Manitoba Legislature.

"I mean, some of them are homeowners and that's their primary residence, and others are cottages and they've had them for a long time, so we do want to address that."

The province says all evacuees were contacted by officials on Wednesday to give them an update.

The most up-to-date news about the fires can be found on the @MBGovNews Twitter page and on the province's website.

The provincial government said it will host an open house for residents affected by the Caddy Lake fire in the near future, although a date has not yet been set.

Rain fell in the Whiteshell overnight and on Wednesday morning, which gave hope to David Grant. He and his wife were forced out of their home in West Hawk Lake on Saturday because of the Caddy Lake fire.

"It's actually raining fairly nicely, and I saw there's a forecast of snow on Friday, so things are good," he said Wednesday morning.

Grant said provincial fire officials told him on Wednesday that it's still not safe enough to return home, but the rainfall is expected to help crews secure fire lines at Caddy Lake and Beresford Lake.

Crews had to be pulled out of their positions in past days due to how volatile the blaze was.

Smoke has forced the closure of Highway 312 east of Highway 44 to the Ontario border. Officials said visibility was too poor for the highway to remain open.

As well, the Hunt Lake, Mantario and McGillivray Falls hiking trails at Whiteshell Provincial Park are closed until conditions improve, the province said.

Two new wildfires were reported Tuesday at Little Grand Rapids, Man.; one was 1.5 hectares in size and the other was half a hectare. There were no issues containing those fires, the Manitoba government said.

N.W.T. sends water bombers

The Northwest Territories has sent two water bomber aircraft and an observation plane, the Manitoba government said.

Firefighting planes were brought in from Minnesota to Caddy Lake on Tuesday to drop fire retardant onto hydro lines, railways and properties. They have since left, officials said.

Friesen said the support from Minnesota helped. The two BAE-146 aircraft made two flights each, carrying more than 11,300 litres of fire retardant per drop.

"The fire retardant is a line that they'll lay down, and the fire basically crawls up to it and then doesn't cross it for a while, so it provides the crews some time to get a handle on affected areas," he said.

A team of firefighters from Nova Scotia is travelling west to help fight the Beresford Lake fire, Passmore said.

Two BAE-146 tankers from the U.S. Forest Service in Minnesota drop fire retardant onto the wildfire near Caddy Lake on Tuesday afternoon. (Ontario Northwest Region Forest Fire Management Centre)

Restaurant thanks firefighters

Meanwhile, volunteer firefighters who have spent days battling the Caddy Lake wildfires were treated to steak and fries at the Nite Hawk Cafe on Tuesday evening.

Restaurant owner Sharon Morrison said she prepared the meal to thank local firefighters for their work protecting homes and cottages.

"They've just been eating sandwiches and wraps in the bush, so it's going to be nice to be able to give them a nice meal," she said.

Her husband, Bruce Morrison, is the fire chief for the South East Whiteshell Fire Department, and she knows many of the volunteers.

Morrison said people in the West Hawk Lake community have been supporting each other, opening up homes and businesses to residents and cottagers who were forced out by the wildfire.

Sharon Morrison, owner of the Nite Hawk Cafe, prepares steak and fries for volunteer firefighters with the South East Whiteshell Fire Department on Tuesday evening. (Nelly Gonzalez/CBC)