Manitoba

'Nothing there but ashes': 4 homes lost in fire at Dakota Plains First Nation

The chief of Dakota Plains First Nations is calling for help rebuilding after a fire tore through the community Tuesday, destroying four homes.

First Nation near Portage la Prairie doesn't have its own firefighting equipment

The chief of Dakota Plains First Nation is calling on the federal government for help after a fire tore through the community Tuesday, destroying four homes. (Mike Blume/Courtesy Portage Online)

The chief of Dakota Plains First Nation is calling for help rebuilding after a fire tore through the community Tuesday, destroying four homes.

The First Nation near Portage la Prairie does not have its own firefighting equipment and the Chief Orville Smoke isn't sure how they will rebuild.

"It was terrible, it was scary, and there was absolutely no one capable of stopping it," he said Thursday. "Because the wind was strong it didn't take much for it to spread.

"It was along the creek and riverbank, and there's dry grass, and it just literally took off."

Leslie Smoke first noticed the fire and started battling the flames himself. (Mike Blume/Portage Online)

Smoke says those who were in harm's way were evacuated and no one was seriously injured.

"The most fortunate thing is that we realized it was coming in. It wasn't in the middle of the night when people were sleeping," he said. "Had that happened, somebody would have died for sure."

Smoke doesn't know how the fire started.

'Too much smoke'

The chief's brother, Leslie Smoke, was the first to notice the fire and he started battling it himself, dousing the flames with water and digging trenches to try to stop them from spreading.

"We couldn't put it out because of the smoke, too much smoke, it drove us out of there," said Leslie.

"There's nothing there but ashes."

Firefighters from the MacGregor Fire Department, the Long Plains First Nation Fire Department, the RCMP and the Dakota Ojibway Police Service later joined to help community members contain the fire.

Between the four houses, the contents of the homes and vehicles lost in the fire, Smoke estimates the damage to be around $680,000. (Mike Blume/Courtesy of Portage Online)

Between the four houses, the contents of the homes and vehicles lost in the fire, Smoke estimates the damage to be around $680,000.

Smoke says the community doesn't have a budget for homes, other than what is provided by the federal government. And because the homes were awaiting renovations, he says they weren't insured.

Smoke is now calling on the federal government to help rebuild after the fires, and is hoping to also get funding for a fire truck and water source for the community.

"It's a matter of life and death," he said.

A spokesperson from Indigenous Services Canada says Dakota Plains First Nation receives $8,260 a year for fire protection services, funding based on several factors, including the number of buildings on the reserve, population, local environment and how close the reserve is to other communities.

The spokesperson said chief and council can decide to use the funding to either establish their own fire department or contract fire protection services from nearby communities.

With files from Julie Dupre