Rain brings hopes of returning home to fire evacuees from Chemawawin Cree Nation

The Chief of Chemawawin Cree Nation is hoping the rain keeps up over the next couple of days so that the 2,000 members forced to evacuate the community can return home.
This forest fire was burning about half a kilometre away from Easterville and the Chemawawin Cree Nation in central Manitoba as of Thursday afternoon. (Beverley George/Facebook)

The Chief of Chemawawin Cree Nation is hoping the rain keeps up over the next couple of days so that the 2,000 members forced to evacuate the community can return home.  

"The last few days people have been coming in and getting registered with Red Cross, [who have been] getting them into their rooms, getting them some clothes and services," said Chief Clarence Easter, who's also staying at a hotel in Winnipeg.

Some 2,000 people from Chemawawin were forced out and bused to Winnipeg Thursday as forest fires crept within a half-kilometre of the First Nation, located about about 400 kilometres north of Winnipeg.​

The abutting tiny community of Easterville has also been evacuated, with all 70 residents going to The Pas.

'They forgot their insulin, they forgot their pens'

Now, nurses from the community will be setting up a temporary station at the Quest Medical Centre on Sunday, so that community members requiring medical assistance can see a doctor and get their prescriptions refilled.

"Follow ups, follow up appointments, a lot of people need to get their prescriptions refilled, people with insulin, they forgot their insulin, they forgot their pens, they got their insulin but they don't have their pens. That sort of stuff happens," said Easter.

"There has been medical emergencies. An ambulance will pick them up and take them to the hospital. We had a few of them yesterday," he said.

Those requiring dialysis are being transported to hospitals in Winnipeg.

'The biggest thing is hope for the best for the community'

The federal Indigenous and Northern Affairs Department said it is providing funding to the Manitoba government to fight forest fires on reserve lands, and the Canadian Red Cross is working with the First Nation to manage the evacuation.

The Red Cross is providing food vouchers, clothing vouchers, lodging and assistance with any other immediate needs. While they only take financial donations, a spokesperson said money donated won't likely go to this crisis.

"The biggest thing is hope for the best for the community that they can get back as soon as possible," said Jason Small, a spokesperson for Red Cross. He encouraged anyone who hasn't registered with them to do so by calling 1-888-662-3211.

"People are still adjusting. Right now they're going to be continuing to adjust every day. It's a challenge to be here considering you are living in a different environment," said Chief Easter.

"With children all over the place and stuff like that."

The rain is helping suppress the wildfires encroaching on the community, and now, Chief Easter said the only ones left there are security and firefighters.

"It's still a mandatory evacuation, so the fire is down but not out. So they'll make an assessment over today and tomorrow," he said.

"The only thing that we need now is to start some sort of events for the kids because we can't keep them in rooms and stuff. Outings and stuff like that. We've got to try to keep them busy."

A view of the wildfire near Chemawawin Cree Nation and Easterville, Man. on June 24. (Courtesy Jeff Thomas)
People are staying at Holiday Inn, Canad Inns HSC, Canad Inns Fort Garry and Radisson and Quest Inn in Winnipeg.

"The community is coming together, supporting each other while they're out of their homes," said Small.

Easter said overall, things are OK, and that his main priority is ensuring people can access the services they would have at home.

"By starting to plan for outings — people in Winnipeg can help in that respect. What kind of events are going on, where they can go, things like that."