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This article was published 10/8/2011 (3336 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As southeastern Manitoba endures with one of the driest summers in recent years, Manitoba Conservation officials have stepped up their presence in the air -- patrolling the skies over bone-dry provincial parks and backcountry.
More than 90 fires have broken out in the region since April when the fire season began and firefighters are still battling 19 active blazes.
The province has nearly a dozen helicopters patrolling the tinder-dry eastern region, including six Bell-205 helicopters to shuttle fire crews to hot spots.
On Wednesday, Manitoba Conservation officers made another air patrol of the area, noting the progress made on two fires that have recently been brought under control -- and in the case of one 400-hectare fire, just in time to save four cottages near Okimaw Lake.
Dropping low over scorched spruce trees, Manitoba Conservation officers surveyed the handiwork of the backcountry firefighters hectare upon hectare of blackened earth, interrupted only by the rock of the Canadian Shield and the charred remains of spruce.
After blazing out of control for nearly two weeks, it has finally been reduced to smouldering blackness by the efforts of the fire crews and water bombers.
But with this part of the province having only received 20 per cent of the usual amount of rainfall for this time of year, officials are taking nothing for granted.
"Right across the eastern region we haven't received enough precipitation," said Earl Simmons, chief natural resources officer for the eastern region. "The chance of a fire starting has been climbing."
And with lightning sparking fires on a daily basis, provincial officials decided they couldn't accept the risk of people causing even more fires.
The province has banned all open fires in eastern Manitoba and has banned all backcountry travel until further notice.
But even with the restrictions in place, officials have had to lay charges on 11 people for violating the travel ban.
Wednesday, Manitoba Conservation officers surveyed a fresh fire north of Pine Falls crews have been struggling to keep under control, especially since the fire erupted far from a source of water.
When fires ignite far from a water source, helicopters and water bombers transport water from afield in buckets and giant bladders.
Armed with chainsaws, hoses and axes, backcountry firefighters are dropped near a blaze to work for up to 16 hours a day -- battling fires and sleeping outside for nearly a week before returning to base.
It's a gruelling, adrenaline-pumping job, yet crews are filled with men and women who return to fight fires season after season.
Ed Purcell has worked with his fire crew based near Bissett for five years but said this was one of the worst years for fires he has seen.
"I get the adrenaline," acknowledged Purcell, who spent the day Wednesday bringing the fire near Pine Falls under control. "But if I'm ever concerned, we call in the water bombers to help us out."
And keeping those aircrews in the sky for support can be very expensive.
The province will spend up to $250,000 per day to suppress fires in the eastern region and, with forecasts calling for hot, dry weather for at least another week, those costs will continue to accumulate.
"It's very expensive," said Simmons. "Fuelling and maintaining the helicopters and water bombers is very expensive."
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