As Convention Centre fills, 2nd emergency shelter to open for Manitoba wildfire evacuees

The Winnipeg emergency centre for evacuees driven from their homes by a wildfire in northern Manitoba is expected to reach its capacity of nearly 1,000 people by Friday morning.

RBC Convention Centre expected to reach capacity of nearly 1,000; 2nd shelter to open for up to 900

Forest fire evacuees from three Manitoba First Nations line up in halls of the RBC Convention Centre where they will stay until the fire dies down. (Caroline Barghout/CBC)

The Winnipeg emergency centre for evacuees driven from their homes by a wildfire in northern Manitoba is expected to reach its capacity of nearly 1,000 people by Friday morning.

A spokesperson from the Canadian Red Cross told CBC News the organization expects the group shelter set up at the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg to fill throughout Thursday night, and is preparing to open a second emergency shelter Friday morning for up to 900 people.

"With limited hotel space, we still just need more beds for people, so it was determined we needed a second facility," said Jason Small, the communications co-ordinator for the Red Cross, on Thursday.

The second shelter is set to open Friday at the Winnipeg Soccer Federation's Winnipeg Soccer North indoor complex on Leila Avenue.

Two military planes full of evacuees from Wasagamack, Garden Hill and St. Theresa Point First Nations arrived in Winnipeg Thursday, bringing the total number of evacuees flown from the Island Lake communities to 2,500 since Tuesday.

Around 1,600 people will be in Winnipeg by Friday morning, Small said, with 900 in Brandon.

RBC Convention Centre expected to reach capacity of nearly 1,000

5 years ago
Duration 2:10
The RBC convention centre in downtown Winnipeg has opened it's doors to evacuees. It will be providing meals and cots for about about one thousand people displaced by forest fires burning in Manitoba's north

A total of 3,700 people need to be flown out of the three First Nations due to a nearby wildfire. The entire community of Wasagamack — around 2,000 people — were told to leave their homes on Tuesday afternoon, as well as more than 800 people with health concerns from both Garden Hill and St. Theresa Point.

The Red Cross has said the number of evacuees could rise to as many as 7,000, but Small said it's unclear if it will.

"We have no idea. Right now, it's up to Mother Nature and just to the provincial government dealing with the fire," he said.

Volunteers offer compassion

Garden Hill Chief Dino Flett helped organize a pizza night for people at the Convention Centre. Flett was in Winnipeg at the time of the evacuation and has helped co-ordinate efforts from the city.

"We're letting Red Cross handle it, but they are overwhelmed with the crowd. We're trying to do what we can from our side," he said.
Garden Hill First Nation Chief Dino Flett helped organize a pizza dinner for evacuees at the RBC Convention Centre. (Tanner Grywinski/CBC)

Flett said so far 700 people have been flown out of his community. Half of them are from the "priority one" group, he said, meaning they have health issues. The other half are escorts.

For now, he said, many of them are staying on cots in the shelter, but his council is working on a plan to get them into hotels.

Volunteers from Winnipeg's Mama Bear Clan also arrived to offer emotional support.

"That's a big thing, compassion," said Christina Kitchekesik, a member of the patrol group.

Kitchekesik would ordinarily have been patrolling in North Point Douglas or on Main Street Thursday night but she and other Mama Bear members opted to head to the Convention Centre to see if they could help.
Christina Kitchekesik, a member of Winnipeg's Mama Bear Clan, said she went to the emergency shelter at the Convention Centre to offer compassion to evacuees. (Tanner Grywinski/CBC)

"If they need a ride from Point A to B, there's some drivers here that can do that. The rest of us are going to help around, you know, just talk to them, be supportive so they're not so lost," she said.

Kitchekesik said her heart went out to the evacuees.

"It's sad, you know. I feel heartbroken because I know what it's like to be in trauma," she said.

"They're all traumatized, you know, being away from home with their family, being in a city ... that's quite the switch from a little community to the city."

With files from Jillian Taylor and Jill Coubrough