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Fire near St. Laurent poses danger to property: fire chief

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Crews near St. Laurent continued today fighting hotspots in a fire that has burned about 2,000 acres of prairie grass and bush.

"We have high winds here and the fire is posing a danger to properties," said St. Laurent Fire Chief Real Fontaine in a brief interview about 3 p.m. He had been awake at the fire scene for 36 hours and, after transferring command of the firefighting effort, was going to bed for a few hours of sleep.

The fire started on Sept. 15 in a gravel pit when vandals targeted an excavator and a four-wheel loader, and flames spread to nearby bush and prairie. About 30 firefighters from three departments extinguished visible signs of the fire at the time, but it has reignited repeatedly in the subsequent two weeks, fanned by dry winds.

On Tuesday afternoon, it appears another wildfire had ignited in a nearby location.

Fontaine said he is grateful to several neighbouring fire departments who have helped out under a program called Mutual Aid District, which allows firefighters to rest.

So far, the fire has not burned buildings, or hurt people or livestock. However, in the past few days, it has grown to the point where it could endanger people and homes.

"Many properties around this area are in jeopardy, farmsteads and homes are adjacent to where fire stopped," said Fontaine. "People have been put on alert and advised to get ready."

In the past three days, the effort to contain the spreading fire included about 60 people from different RM fire departments, a water bomber, and about a dozen machines, including bulldozers making cuts on the edge of the fire.

The problem is that the fire can seem to be extinguished when, actually, it’s gone underground into dry turf, ready to flare up again and be pushed by wind.

Fontaine said his department welcomes volunteers. They don’t need experience in firefighting, but must be physically fit to pull hoses and wear forty-pound backpacks.

St. Laurent is about 100 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

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