Hundreds waiting at airport in Manitoba First Nation after fire forces evacuation

Hundreds of people are still waiting to leave a northern Manitoba First Nation after being forced from their homes by an encroaching wildfire.

Wasagamack First Nation fully evacuated; Garden Hill, St. Theresa Point First Nations partially evacuated

Children look at at airplane that will fly residents out of the airport at St. Theresa Point First Nation. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Hundreds of people were still waiting Wednesday evening to leave a northern Manitoba First Nation after being forced from their homes by an encroaching wildfire.

"There's too many people here," said Brian Harper, who waited at the airport in St. Theresa Point First Nation on Wednesday. Some of his family members were also there, but some had already been flown out.

"We're trying to do as much as we can, like, getting the family members united … We're worried about them," he said.
Residents of Wasagamack, Garden Hill and St. Theresa Point First Nations don't know when they'll be able to return back home. Here, residents are seen waiting to be flown out of St. Theresa Point to either Brandon or Winnipeg. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Harper's family was forced from their homes in Wasagamack First Nation on Tuesday evening due to the forest fire. Wasagamack has no airport, so the roughly 2,000 people of the community were taken 10 kilometres by boat to the airport in St. Theresa Point, in order to be flown to Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson, Man.

Approximately 300 people were still at the airport in St. Theresa Point on Wednesday evening.

At its closest point, the fire is less than a kilometre from Wasagamack First Nation. Smoke from the fire also prompted St. Theresa Point and Garden Hill First Nations to move people with health concerns out of those communities. More than 800 people from both First Nations are being flown out.

As of Wednesday evening, flights from the Island Lake area were expected to continue into the night if the weather holds and pilots don't reach their maximum in-flight hours.

Harper said he hadn't been told where he'd be taken from the airport.

"They haven't even told us anything," he said. "Not yet."

Residents waiting outside to be flown to Brandon or Winnipeg from the St. Theresa Point First Nation airport. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

It's unclear when families will be able to return home.

"We don't know what we're going to be facing," said Chris Knott, the fire chief for St. Theresa Point. "Right now, the winds are calm and wherever the sparks have fallen, we don't know the extent of fires we're going to be facing again if the wind picks up."

He said the calm winds Wednesday afternoon provided a window to get residents out safely, while there was less smoke in the air.

Children play as they wait to be taken to Winnipeg, Brandon or Thompson, Man. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

"If that escalates we have to run, try and scramble around to get to safety zones," the fire chief said. "Because of the dry season we had all summer, not much rain throughout the whole summer season, actually …that's basically what's feeding the fires, all the dry brushes and the wind."

Fire Chief Knott said the communities need rain to reduce risk from the fire, but rain isn't forecast until Friday, he said.

"Thursday, we're still looking at sunny weather and not until Friday that there's a forecast of rain. Not much of it, but then again, we don't know. Winds change," he said.

"It can be either small rain or heavy rain, but Manitoba weather is unpredictable."

With files from Sean Kavanagh