Military to help evacuate 3 Manitoba First Nations at risk from wildfire

The Canadian military will help relocate 3,700 people forced from their homes by forest fires in northern Manitoba.

Fire prompted evacuation of Wasagamack First Nation, partial evacuations of Garden Hill, St. Theresa Point

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

The Canadian military will help relocate some 3,700 people forced from their homes by forest fires in northern Manitoba.

The Department of National Defence will send military planes to get residents out of Wasagamack, Garden Hill and St. Theresa Point First Nations, the department told CBC News in an email statement on Wednesday.

"The Minister of National Defence has received and approved a request for assistance from our partners at the Department of Indigenous Affairs," the statement reads.

"The Canadian Armed Forces will provide RCAF air assets to support evacuation efforts in Wasagamack FN community."

Two Hercules airplanes will fly displaced residents to Winnipeg starting Thursday morning and continuing throughout the day, according to a news release from the Canadian Red Cross.

The response is part of an agreement between the Red Cross and the federal government to provide disaster relief to Manitoba First Nations.

Emergency shelter in Winnipeg

But a statement from the department confirmed it will set up a triage centre and emergency shelter in Winnipeg for evacuees.

"The extra space is needed to accommodate the large number of individuals displaced by the fires," it reads. "As this situation is evolving — we are keeping a close eye on developments and will be better positioned to provide more details soon."

The triage centre will be housed in the RBC Convention Centre on York Avenue, said Michael Jack, acting chief administrative office for the City of Winnipeg.

People with health issues will get first priority when it comes to hotel rooms and those who don't have health issues will stay in at the Convention Centre, said a spokesperson for Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

The triage centre is expected to be running by Thursday morning, and should accommodate up to 1,000 people, according to a statement released from the Red Cross.

The organization already has a large stock of cots and blankets to be used at the shelter, which the Red Cross will be with the assistance from the Bear Clan, the statement said.

The entire community of Wasagamack First Nation — around 2,000 people — was told to leave on Tuesday afternoon due to an encroaching forest fire. At its closest point, the fire is less than one kilometre from the First Nation.

By around noon Wednesday, the fire had grown to 23,000 hectares — 10 times the size of Brandon, Man. It was likely caused by lightning, according to the provincial government.

Smoke from the fire also prompted a partial evacuation of nearby Garden Hill and St. Theresa Point First Nations, targeting residents with health issues. More than 800 residents from each of those communities were forced to leave their homes.

Displaced people are being flown to Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson.

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      Corrections

      • A previous version of this story stated the forest fire was 77,000 hectares in size, based on information provided to media from the Manitoba government. In fact, as of Thursday it was closer to 23,000 hectares in size, according to the province.
        Aug 31, 2017 1:40 PM CT

      With files from Jill Coubrough and Bartley Kives