As firefighters struggled to extinguish a 125-acre wildfire that has destroyed six RV trailers near Falcon Lake in Whiteshell Provincial Park, the province issued a ban on backcountry trails and water routes Thursday because of extremely dry conditions.

As firefighters struggled to extinguish a 125-acre wildfire that has destroyed six RV trailers near Falcon Lake in Whiteshell Provincial Park, the province issued a ban on backcountry trails and water routes Thursday because of extremely dry conditions.

The ban, which took effect immediately, applies to provincial parks in southern Manitoba, including Whiteshell, where the Falcon Lake fire raged. The nearby Toniata seasonal campground was forced to close.

Dave Schafer, director of the Manitoba Wildfire Program, said conditions are so dry that the fire risk is listed as high to extreme across much of the province.

Schafer said that's why they've closed all backcountry trails and water routes in all parks south of the 53rd parallel, and have banned campfires.

"We've already got extreme conditions and there's not a lot of appreciable precipitation in the forecast," said Schafer on Thursday.

"Unfortunately, the forecast with a little bit of moisture has lightning — that doesn't help."

The trail and water route bans include hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and motorized vehicles. Hikers will still be allowed on limited trails within provincial park campgrounds and town sites.

"We need people to stay out of the backcountry," said Schafer. "Just say on developed trails and have a plan for getting out quickly if they have to and to call 911 if they see something.

"We don't need to worry about people in the backcountry when there is a fire there. It takes our resources away from where they are needed."

Schafer said five ground crews, as well as helicopters and water bombers, are battling the blaze near the east end of Falcon Lake, about two kilometres east of Toniata.

"(Air support) will be there whenever they are needed," he said.

But Schafer said even with the fire in the Whiteshell, and others in recent days in the RM of Piney and RM of Grahamdale, there have been fewer forest fires, on average, so far this year, likely because of provincial fire-reduction efforts and people being cautious.

"We're at 51 total fires to date, and our 10-year average is 79," he said.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
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Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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