Manitoba

Manitoba mulls total burn ban as wildfire forces evacuation

The province may soon order a ban on starting any fires — even in fire pits.

Firepit prohibition may put damper on cottagers' May long weekend plans

A water bomber tries to suppress a wildfire near Caddy Lake on Sunday. (Submitted)

The province may soon order a ban on starting any fires — even in firepits.

The warning comes after the evacuation of cottages near Caddy Lake on Sunday because of a wildfire. 

Wide swaths of Manitoba are experiencing drought-like conditions as cottagers prepare for the May long weekend.

"A few weeks back we banned all fires except in approved pits and then we upped the restriction to only fires in pits in the evenings, and we'll be reviewing this week and we might eliminate all fires altogether," said Earl Simmons, Manitoba Sustainable Development's regional field supervisor for eastern Manitoba. "It's extremely dry."

Simmons, who has worked for the province for more than 30 years, said he doesn't remember it being this dry except for a period in the late 1980s.

A wildfire next to Caddy Lake has grown to 38 hectares, a provincial official says. (Submitted)

Provincial firefighters are battling flames throughout the province, particularly in the eastern and central regions, as well as in western Manitoba near the Duck Mountain and Spruce Woods provincial parks.

Eastern Manitoba alone has 12 fires raging, he said.

Firefighters need time off

Simmons said water bombers and crews are arriving from Quebec and they need out-of-province firefighters.

"Most of our firefighters are coming up to working 24 days straight and we just have to give them some time off," he said on Monday morning.

The wildfire near Caddy Lake and West Hawk Lake is out of control, forcing evacuations.

Firefighters have surrounded the 38-hectare blaze in the Whiteshell area from the ground and the air, but the blaze remains unpredictable.

"The fire ... is almost 100 per cent contained at this time, but it's still considered out of control," Simmons said.

A provincial spokesperson added that large sections inside the suppression area have not burned and the tall trees are susceptible to ignition.

The Caddy Lake fire is one of 12 fires in eastern Manitoba. (Submitted)

The blaze was spotted Sunday near the Manitoba-Ontario border, prompting evacuations, the deployment of water bombers and a highway closure.

About 20 cottagers at Caddy Lake and McDougall's Landing and Big Island Landing on West Hawk Lake were told to evacuate the area. They were sheltered in Ingolf, Ont.

A tree landing on a hydro line caused the fire, which is adjacent to several cottages, Simmons said.

No structures have been lost. Firefighters saved the provincial fish hatchery on Highway 312 by placing a fire-retardant foam around the buildings, Simmons said.

On Sunday, seven water bombers were dispatched to the fire, which started on the south end of Caddy Lake and was pushed to the southeast by wind.

Sacha Harder, owner of the couples resort Tallpine Lodges in West Hawk Lake, saw the smoke on Sunday and called 911.

"It didn't create a haze over here, but ... you could see it very clearly across the lake," she said.

Neighbours relieved

The fire is nothing like the nearly 6,000 hectare blaze that burned in the area in 2016, but the worry persists.

"It's really dry up here; it just takes one wrong shift of the wind," she said.

Jan Cmela, who owns a cottage at Green Bay Resort on the east side of Caddy Lake, heard of the spreading forest fire from the Facebook posts of her neighbouring cottagers. She was not at her cabin at the time.

"It's a very close-knit group so (the fire) coming that close is a little scary, especially with no rain in the forecast."

The province closed Highway 312 from Highway 44 to the Ontario border around 6:30 p.m. CT Sunday due to the fire.

The province may soon order a ban on starting any fires — even in firepits. The warning comes after the evacuation of cottages near Caddy Lake on Sunday because of a wildfire. 1:22

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson and Bryce Hoye