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Wildfire forces evacuation of Vita

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A church in Steinbach is offering sanctuary to residents of Vita who are fleeing a fire that is destroying homes in the community.

At least three houses have burned, and a bridge has collapsed, according to reports about 3:30 p.m. Trees in the town are on fire and thick black smoke blankets the town and the efforts of firefighters trying to halt the fire from spreading.

All residents have been told to evacuate and buses are transporting some of them to Steinbach Mennonite Church, where church members are welcoming them.

"We can take in 400 people if need be," a church member said in a telephone interview. "If they need help, we’re here for them."

He said the church volunteers are providing food and coffee, and will billet any Vita residents who are unable to return home.

Vita is about 120 kilometres south of Winnipeg.

The province said Tuesday afternoon it was sending three water bombers to douse fires near Vita and Richer. Two more planes from Ontario are helping out.

Hot, dry conditions and high winds are driving grass and brush fires in several areas including near Milner Ridge and St. Malo. Municipal and provincial staff are also fighting fires in the municipalities of Grahamdale and St. Laurent.

A government spokesman said Tuesday that Premier Greg Selinger is planning to visit the southeast fire region Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship Department issued backcountry travel restrictions for the area on Tuesday. Included is the area east of PR 302 to the Ontario border and south of the TransCanada Highway to the U.S. border. Backcountry travel is now allowed by permit only.

Burning permits were cancelled on Sept. 30. No new permits will be issued. All forest, mining and quarry operations will only be allowed to operate by permit. Campfires, including those in provincial parks, will only be allowed from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. in approved fire pits. For information on the travel restrictions, contact the local Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship office or call 1-204-345-1444.

Under these travel restrictions:

  • backcountry travel, including hiking and all-terrain vehicles, will not be permitted;
  • canoeing and boating will be restricted to developed shorelines for landing/launching;
  • camping will only be allowed in developed campgrounds; and
  • aircraft will only be permitted to use lakes with developed shorelines or docks.

History

Updated on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 5:19 PM CDT: Adds information

8:50 PM: Adds photo

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