Hundreds of firefighters are pouring into the Whiteshell and northwestern Ontario to battle a wildfire that’s already consumed 5,829 hectares and keeps on growing.
But so far only a few sheds have been lost and there have been no injuries.
The fire is within a kilometer of Caddy Lake, but it’s been that close for a couple of days without getting any nearer, Gary Friesen, manager of wildfire programs for Manitoba’s department of sustainable development, said in an interview Wednesday afternoon.
"It’s a favourable weather situation right now —- 3,893 hectares of that are in Manitoba," Friesen said. "What rain we did have allowed us to get crews in.
"We have firefighters coming from the north by busloads. These are emergency firefighters the department hires and certifies" for just such situations, Friesen said. "We have firefighters coming from all over Ontario."
Friesen said that winds have been pushing the fire to the north. The forecast is for much cooler temperatures, which will help, he said, pointing out that what helps Manitoba has just the opposite effect in Ontario.
"Ideally, we’d like to get a good soaking. The patterns will turn the winds back to the north-west," he said. Water bombers are working non-stop in daylight, but, "The on-ground suppression puts the fire out."
Manitoba and Ontario are organizing plans to hold an open house for affected residents and cottagers at the community centre in Falcon Beach, possibly as early as Friday.
"We had some Minnesota tankers come up from Bemidji" to protect Hydro lines, Friesen said, and crews are trying to stop the flames from jumping the main rail lines. "We have wildfire crews working with crews from CN and CP," he said.
The fire has reached to the point at which South Cross and North Cross lakes connect by a tunnel beneath the rail line.
"It is pretty close to the shore there," Friesen said.
There have been no further evacuations Wednesday. Friesen said that cottages and other buildings have been and continue to be heavily soaked by sprinklers, and while he said nothing is guaranteed given winds and volatile conditions, he hoped that Caddy Lake and West Hawk Lake shorelines would not be lost.
Meanwhile, Friesen said, a skeleton crew is maintaining the Manitoba provincial fish hatchery on Highway 312, which has been closed for several days. It is just inside the border with Ontario and about two kilometers from the nearest cottages on Caddy Lake. "The hatchery itself has a sprinkler system set up. They’re in a maintanenance mode," Friesen said.
Premier Brian Pallister said the province is committed to improving the provision of timely information to cottagers and residents affected by the wildfires.
"The information-flow issues are, I’m told, being addressed. I think that’s really important," he told reporters after his 40-person caucus took their oaths of office on Wednesday.
Residents and cottagers are obviously fearful for their properties, and that’s understandable, Pallister said.
"They have enough to worry about. They shouldn’t have to worry about getting accurate information in a timely manner," he said.
Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox, who is in charge of the province’s response to the fires, said her department has addressed the need for better communications, appointing a point person to provide information. She couldn’t immediately name the departmental contact, but said her staff would provide that information to the media.
"My heart goes out to all of those folks, the evacuees and everybody who owns cottages out there and are affected by these fires," said Cox, who is being briefed continually on the status of the fires in southeastern Manitoba.
Asked if she was optimistic the fires could soon be brought under control, Cox said the situation is continually changing, depending on temperature, wind speed and wind direction.
Rain and cooler temperatures should help crews fighting both the Whiteshell and Beresford Lake fires, said the province.
- with files from Larry Kusch
Updated on Wednesday, May 11, 2016 at 12:11 PM CDT: Adds maps
2:55 PM: Updates
4:32 PM: Updates with gov't statements