Fire near Bloodvein one of the largest on record, Manitoba government says

Four separate fires in eastern Manitoba have merged to become one of the largest single fires on record, a spokesperson for the provincial government said Wednesday.

York Factory, Red Sucker Lake residents preparing to go home; 4 other First Nations still evacuated

A fire burns about 10 kilometres south of Bloodvein First Nation in Manitoba on July 20, 2021. Bloodvein is among four eastern Manitoba First Nations that remain under evacuation. (Submitted by Percy Swain)

Four separate fires in eastern Manitoba have merged to become one of the largest single fires on record, a spokesperson for the provincial government said Wednesday.

The fire, near Bloodvein First Nation on the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg, is now nearly 80,000 hectares in size.

This comes after three fires near Berens River combined to form one single fire on Tuesday. 

Hubert Boyd is the fire co-ordinator for the First Nation in charge of evacuations. He remained in Berens River, which is about 276 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

"This morning we had a little bit of smoke that was due to the fires north of us," Boyd said.

"We were getting the northeast wind and it was bringing in the smoke, but the wind shifted and the smoke is gone again."

Boyd said that fire has largely burned itself out and crews are focusing primarily on keeping it away from power lines. The community lost electricity over the weekend when the fire burned power lines that serve the First Nation, but power was restored on Sunday.

Despite the lower risk from the fire, Boyd said the air conditons are still too poor to bring evacuees home.

"It just wasn't for the smoke, they'd be all able to come back," he said.

As of Wednesday, there were 140 active fires in the province, including four that started in the last 24 hours. To date, there have been 367 recorded wildfires, while the average for this time of year is 333.

Some fire evacuees prepare to go home

Fire evacuees from two Manitoba First Nation communities are preparing to go home even as thousands remain under evacuation orders.

As of Tuesday, Indigenous Services Canada said it was providing support, such as covering costs for transportation, lodging and meals for approximately 3,100 registered evacuees through the Canadian Red Cross and community-led evacuations.

In an update Wednesday morning, the department said evacuees from the northern Manitoba community of York Factory First Nation, about 850 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, are now preparing to return home.

Residents of Red Sucker Lake First Nation, about 530 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, are also in the process of returning to their homes.

Four eastern Manitoba First Nations remain under evacuation — Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi, Berens River and Bloodvein.

Poplar River First Nation is currently sheltering in place due to wildfire smoke. 

Provinces and territories send support

There are currently 105 Canadian Armed Forces members helping fight fires in the province, as well as a number of firefighters and pieces of equipment from other provinces.

Nova Scotia has sent 20 firefighters, while New Brunswick has sent 40.

Quebec has sent an an air tanker, and another air tanker and 40 firefighters are expected to arrive later this week. 

Four air tankers have also arrived from the Northwest Territories, and four more are expected later this week.

The CAN-TF4 Search and Rescue team will set up a base camp for firefighters in the Loon Straits area later this week.

With files from Marina von Stackelberg