It could be a gruelling summer for firefighters in southern Manitoba as tinder-dry conditions have set the stage for a wild season of wildfires.

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This article was published 3/5/2021 (219 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It could be a gruelling summer for firefighters in southern Manitoba as tinder-dry conditions have set the stage for a wild season of wildfires.

Fire crews in Winnipeg battled 39 wildfires in April; there were 200 during all of last year.

People who illegally burn leaves, grass or other debris can be held liable if neighbouring properties go up in flames, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service assistant chief Mark Reshaur said.

Outside the city, 20 wildfires have burned more than 12,000 acres since late March.

In Gimli, water-bomber pilots have been preparing for battle, practising takeoffs, water-loading on Lake Winnipeg and landing.

Conditions have raised concerns among vacation-property owners in numerous areas. Kerry Davies, president of the Whiteshell Cottagers Association, said there is abundant deadfall to fuel flames scattered throughout the provincial park.

"Cottagers are concerned about the lack of precipitation overall," he said.

"There is a concern that there are some roads in the Whiteshell that are one road in, meaning there’s only one road out if a fire does happen."

The association keeps a close eye on the situation and speaks to provincial officials almost daily, he said.

Manitoba Wildlife Service director Dave Schafer said this time of year, before grass, trees and plants begin to flourish is prime for wildfires to quickly spread.

"Fires travel really fast in dried grass," he said. Although they may not be as high as a forest fire in northern Manitoba, they move quickly, and they have a lot of heat and intensity."

The prime suspect in fires later in the year are usually lightning strikes during electrical storms, but in the spring it’s almost always people, he said.

"At this time of year, it’s more like 90 per cent," he said, noting careless behaviour started all 20 fires his service has recorded so far this year.

The entire southern part of the province is dealing with drought conditions, he said, urging Manitobans to avoid using equipment that sparks, and keep water and fire extinguishers on hand.

To prepare for wildfire season, the province will be drawing resources from northern Manitoba into the south, he said.

Winter snowfall and some remaining snow cover should protect northern areas from severe blazes, allowing for the reallocation of crews and equipment to the south, Schafer said.

He said an additional five seasonal firefighting crews will bring the total to about 41 groups of four or five people each.

fpcity@freepress.mb.ca

Cody Sellar

Cody Sellar
Community Journalist

Cody Sellar is the reporter/photographer for The Times. He is a lifelong Winnipegger. He is a journalist, writer, sleuth, sloth, reader of books and lover of terse biographies.