Mathias Colomb evacuees watch, wait as wildfires near home community


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Northern Manitoba residents taking up temporary residence in Winnipeg hotels after being forced to flee their wildfire-threatened communities hope to return home soon.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/07/2022 (254 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Northern Manitoba residents taking up temporary residence in Winnipeg hotels after being forced to flee their wildfire-threatened communities hope to return home soon.

Approximately 2,000 people have been evacuated from Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, some 820 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, according to an estimate by the Canadian Red Cross — 1,800 are staying in hotels in Winnipeg, The Pas, Thompson and Brandon.

The wildfires nearing the Pukatawagan town site have grown substantially since first detection last week.

Two fires have merged with a third, a Manitoba Wildfire Service spokesperson said Wednesday. The massive blaze is now estimated at nearly 270 square km in size and is less than one km from the community.

Another fire about five km northeast of the Pukatawagan is estimated at 140 sq. km, the spokesperson said.

Leroy Castel, 53, fled Mathias Colomb by train with his girlfriend and a nephew four days ago, and is now staying at a medical home on Stradbrook Avenue.

It was rough ride packed in a baggage car, Castel added, with just a small bag of clothes and important papers.

He went to high school in Winnipeg, Castel said, visiting a hotel Wednesday afternoon, where many other evacuees and band leadership are staying.

“It’s OK for me, because I know how to get around, but other people are in distress, because the environment, they’re not used to being in the city,” Castel said.

“The biggest problem is the funding… Red Cross hasn’t given us any funding (yet) — but they’re doing a good job getting us here.”

A Red Cross spokesman said Tuesday those staying in hotels will receive support until the community’s chief and council determine it’s safe to return, due to an agreement between the Red Cross and Indigenous Services Canada.

Castel said he’s not too worried about his house in Pukatawagan — rather, he’s concerned for two dogs he had to leave behind.

Jimmy Colomb, 43, was also evacuated to The Pas four days ago by train, with just the clothes on his back. He then flew to Winnipeg.

Colomb said he’s frustrated with the support evacuees are receiving from band leadership, Red Cross and the federal government. He doesn’t even have his identification, he said.

“I hope our band leadership can help us,” Colomb said.

Meantime, the fires have damaged a number of hydro poles leading into Pukatawagan, so there is currently no power, the wildfire service spokesperson said. One small spot fire in the community was quickly extinguished by crews on the ground.

Manitoba Hydro will work to make repairs and restore power as soon as it is safe and they are able to access the area, the spokesperson said, adding the provincial Emergency Measures Organization and wildfire service are working with multiple agencies and First Nation leadership to ensure crews in the community are safe and have enough supplies.

According to the province, there 63 active wildfires currently burning. Manitoba has obtained the help of 61 firefighters from Ontario, as well as four water bombers from the Northwest Territories.

Twitter: @erik_pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.

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