Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Grey skies offer ray of hope

Rain's a bummer for campers, boon for firefighters

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The rainy start to the long weekend was a bummer for campers but great news for firefighters battling the stubborn dregs of grass fires in southeastern Manitoba.

Firefighters made good progress Saturday on the two fires in the Sandilands Provincial Park, one near the village of Badger and the other near Marchand. Officials were hoping the rain that plagued Winnipeg all day would swing to the south Saturday afternoon and overnight. The province has slowly begun to ramp down the amount of equipment and manpower working on the blazes.

Five or 10 centimetres won't do the trick, said Manitoba Conservation forest-fire chief Gary Friesen. The region needs a good drenching, if not Saturday night then early next week as another storm system moves through the region.

Once those fires are out, Friesen hopes an unusually busy wildfire season will be over. The grass and scrub are starting to green up, making them far less of a fire hazard.

Saturday's rain didn't appear to discourage campers who invaded the province's 50-odd campgrounds to celebrate the traditional start of summer.

Average campground occupancy was up about 1.2 per cent provincewide, even higher in campgrounds a short drive from Winnipeg such as Birds Hill and the Whiteshell.

"You've gotta admit, we've got some of the hardiest campers out there," said Don Hallett, chief of park operations for Manitoba Conservation's eastern region.

The rain did give campers some good news. A daytime ban on campfires was lifted Saturday morning thanks to a waning risk of stray sparks starting grass fires. Campers can now enjoy a fire -- in an approved fire pit, of course -- all day and night.

If enough rain fell Saturday night, provincial officials were to begin reassessing a similar ban on backwoods camping. It's too early to say when that might get lifted.

There were still spots available in most campgrounds, and Hallett said he expected even more outdoorsy types to arrive this morning, once the wet, grey weather lifts.

Friday night's dramatic thunderstorm, which maxed out storm drains and dumped hail on parts of Winnipeg, didn't cause any damage to campgrounds.

Campers who braved Saturday's gloom will earn lovely weather today and Monday. It will be sunny with temperatures nearing 20C in many parts of southern Manitoba.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

RAINFALL AMOUNTS

-- Winnipeg: 27.4 mm at The Forks and 18.5 mm at the airport during Friday night's spectacular thunderstorm.

-- It's too early to tell how much rain fell at Environment Canada's measuring stations in Sprague and Steinbach, the closest ones to the grass fires. Saturday's showers were expected to clear overnight.

... AND ANOTHER KIND OF LUBRICANT

Damp and cold campers couldn't even drown their sorrows with a glass of wine Saturday. As usual, the province's campgrounds were booze-free this May long weekend. Provincial officials said they screened 1,500 cars Friday night and nabbed 31 people trying to sneak liquor into provincial campgrounds. Seven people were charged. Park wardens also later spotted campers at two sites consuming alcohol. Beyond that, it was an uneventful start to the long weekend in most provincial campgrounds, officials said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 20, 2012 A3

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Updated on Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 11:56 AM CDT: Add photos

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