Most of Poplar River First Nation forced from homes by forest fire

A northern Manitoba First Nation ordered a full evacuation Tuesday after strong winds pushed a nearby wildfire closer to the community.

Decision follows partial evacuation earlier this month

Most residents have been forced to leave Poplar River First Nation, about 345 kilometres north of Winnipeg, because of smoke from nearby wildfires. (Dennis Bittern/Facebook)

A northern Manitoba First Nation ordered a full evacuation Tuesday after strong winds pushed a nearby wildfire closer to the community.

Earlier this month, more than 300 people from Poplar River First Nation were flown to Winnipeg in a partial evacuation due to concerns about smoke from a wildfire. The community is about 345 kilometres north of Winnipeg and east of Lake Winnipeg.

Community leadership decided to call a full evacuation on Tuesday based on a recommendation from the province after the strong winds moved the fire to within seven kilometres of the First Nation.

"The situation has gotten worse. From our last severe wind, the past 24 hours caused our fire to grow bigger, eastward," said Ernest Bruce, head of the community's emergency management committee.

Winds are expected to pick up on Thursday and Friday, Bruce said. If that happens, he and community leadership are concerned about smoke in the air and the possibility the fire will enter the community directly.

Around 75 people were flown to Winnipeg Tuesday and Bruce hopes to complete evacuations by Wednesday evening, with the exception of a group of roughly 100 people who volunteered to stay in the community to help protect homes and buildings.

In total, more than 600 people will be flown out of the First Nation, Bruce said. The band registry is much larger but many people on the list don't live in the area and some who do are away for travel or medical reasons, he said.

Displaced residents will be put up in hotels in Winnipeg by the federal government, through a partnership with the Canadian Red Cross, which is assisting with evacuations.

Jason Small, a Red Cross spokesperson, said the process will be done in small batches because the airstrip in Poplar River can only accommodate small planes.

The planes being used seat roughly seven to nine passengers, he said.

Bruce said there's some apprehension in the community, adding the area was badly affected by a fire in 1929.

"There's a sense of fear with the younger children and young parents," Bruce said.

He's one of the people staying behind. The group plans to install sprinklers in the eastern part of the community on Wednesday.

"I feel that I have an obligation to commit my time and myself to this effort to make sure that the community is safe, and also that the people are taken care of, because we are part of a team," he said.