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Stubborn blaze now endangering farmsteads, homes in St. Laurent

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Firefighters still can’t turn their backs on a stubborn fire near St. Laurent that has burned about 2,000 acres of prairie grass and bush.

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.

"The grass is so tinder dry, it doesn’t take much to get it going," St. Laurent Fire Chief Real Fontaine said in an interview today. In his 24 years with the fire department, this is the biggest fire he’s fought.

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 two 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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