Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger insists it’s too early and unpredictable to be optimistic about forest fire season in the province despite reduced numbers of blazes to date.
"It’s way early in the season," Selinger said on Tuesday, in a phone interview from Thompson. "It’s been extremely dry in the north even though it’s been extremely wet in the south. And they’re expecting quite dry and hot weather in the next week or two. So it’s too early to be overly optimistic about the amount of fires we’re going to have to fight this year."
Selinger spent Tuesday afternoon observing the close calls experienced in both Ilford and War Lake First Nations, where residents were evacuated over a week ago due to large fires that crept to the outskirts of the communities, located northeast of Thompson.
"It just missed disaster," Selinger said. "The fire came right up to the buildings, burned one of the walls black. But because of all the work that had been done to put the sprinkler system in place, the fire skirted around the community. That saved a huge amount of damage. It was that close."
More than 22 fire-attack crew members, 90 emergency firefighters, four water bombers and five helicopters are currently engaged in fighting northern fires.
The fire near Ilford covers more than 45,000 hectares, according to provincial officials. Crews have cut a series of fire lines and installed emergency sprinklers that spray a "halo" of water around buildings. Crews are continuing to monitor the situations near War Lake and Ilford.
Meanwhile, a fire near Keeyask is burning more than 18,000 hectares and crews are working to prevent any westward movement towards Split Lake, where residents are on standby for potential evacuation.
"There’s still risk for sure," Selinger noted. "There’s forecasts for higher temperatures next week. But everybody is on full alert and everybody is fully engaged in protecting those communities."
So far this year there have been 160 wildfires in Manitoba, burning 118,000 hectares. Thirty-nine were started by lighting. That’s below the average of 200 fires by this time of year, according to the province. In 2012, there were 481 fires that burned a total of 222,000 hectares.
Up-to-date road conditions for northern Manitoba, which can be affected by smoke from fires, are available at www.mb511.ca, on mobile devices at www.manitoba.ca, on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MBGovRoads or by calling 511.
Randy Turner spent much of his journalistic career on the road. A lot of roads. Dirt roads, snow-packed roads, U.S. interstates and foreign highways. In other words, he got a lot of kilometres on the odometer, if you know what we mean.