About $1M spent replacing fridges, freezers in 2 evacuated First Nations: Red Cross

The Red Cross started flying hundreds of new fridges and freezers on Sunday to two Manitoba First Nations that remain evacuated due to wildfires.

Spoiled food, chemical leakage means about 800 appliances have to be flown to 2 communities

It's expected to take a few days before about 800 fridges and freezers have been delivered to two Manitoba First Nations evacuated due to wildfires. (Walther Bernal/cbc)

Cargo planes started shipping hundreds of fridges and freezers on Sunday to two Manitoba First Nations that remain evacuated due to wildfires.

The Canadian Red Cross said it's spent about $1 million so far replacing about 800 appliances in Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi First Nation. It said the appliances needed to be replaced because when a wildfire knocked power out in the communities last month, food started to rot and chemicals began leaking.

"You can just imagine over the last almost four weeks you've had food sitting in your fridge the temperatures are reaching almost 30 degrees outside so everything is spoiling," said Shawn Feely, vice president for the Red Cross in Manitoba and Nunavut.
Shawn Feely is the Canadian Red Cross Vice-President for Manitoba and Nunavut. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

More than 1,400 people from the two communities remained in Winnipeg hotels Sunday while crews work to restore power and discard spoiled food and the ruined appliances in the fly-in First Nations. "It's obviously a huge job to get up and running," Feely said.

Manitoba Hydro hopes to have power back on in both First Nations by June 22. Crews are finishing repairs to hydro systems and rebuilding a sub-transmission line into the area that was destroyed by forest fires.

Hydro spokesperson Scott Powell called it a "massive task" and said there is a chance work could be delayed due to weather or availability of aircraft but as of Sunday crews were on track to meet the June 22 completion date. 

Feely said the evacuation of the two communities to date has cost upwards of $8-9 million and that number is expected to grow.

The new fridges and freezers started being loaded into cargo planes Sunday afternoon and are being flown to Little Grand Rapids and some will then be taken by helicopter to Pauingassi, which doesn't have an airport with a landing strip big enough for the planes.

Many evacuees had meat and fish they harvested themselves stored in freezers that spoiled. The Red Cross said it'll provide residents with the means to replace lost food but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll be given cash.

It's expected to take two to three days for the new fridges and freezers to make their way to the two First Nations.


​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg. Since joining CBC in 2016, he's covered several major stories. Some of his career highlights have been documenting the plight of asylum seekers leaving America in the dead of winter for Canada and the 2019 manhunt for two teenage murder suspects. In 2021, he won an RTDNA Canada award for his investigative reporting on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which triggered change. Have a story idea? Email: