As of Saturday, at least 84 soldiers from Canada’s military have been deployed to four locations in Manitoba with a crucial mission: to fight a growing number of forest fires.
Armed Forces members were sent from Canadian Forces Base Shilo near Brandon to tackle wildfires near Swan River, Nopiming, Gypsumville and Sherridon. Four of the soldiers deployed are combat medics, trained to provide emergency medical treatment and preliminary care for patients with urgent needs.
"We wanted to make sure each of the locations had at least one medically-trained professional," Lt. Miguel Moldez told the Free Press, on behalf of the Canadian Armed Forces, in an interview Saturday.
The military is expected to be at the scene until mid-August. Fire crews have also arrived from Nova Scotia, Quebec, Northwest Territories and Parks Canada.
Moldez said the number of soldiers mentioned in previous media reports has not been accurate. "From what I know about things on the ground, it’s 80 soldiers and four medics right now, and we’re looking at the possibility of bringing that total up higher," he said.
A commitment of 120 soldiers has been made by the military so far. All of those would come from 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry at Shilo.
"That means this province is these soldiers’ home," Moldez said. "And so, of course, they want to do whatever they can to be there for people in need during this really difficult period."
More than 2,300 people have been evacuated because of at least 132 wildfires in Manitoba, as of Saturday. Most of those are members of First Nations and residents at Northern Affairs communities, near First Nations,who are now staying at hotels and temporary rooms in Winnipeg or Brandon.
Forest fires have disproportionately impacted Métis, First Nations and other Indigenous populations.
Six First Nations and three Northern Affairs communities were left stranded, when smoke spread across their areas and fires continued on Friday. Many lost electric power and hydro, with at least five communities still experiencing those concerns Saturday.
Manitoba Hydro said the outage is affecting more than 1,500 people and is expected to be restored on Tuesday.
The province said, however, there are no communities at immediate risk anymore despite those conditions. In a statement, a provincial spokesperson said scattered showers and thunderstorms over the weekend in the northern and western regions of Manitoba will likely alleviate some fires.
"The Manitoba Wildfire service will continue to action and prioritize fires with available resources based on the priorities of life, property and other values at risk," the statement reads.
Bloodvein First Nation members are requesting the following items be dropped off at the Quest Inn Hotel in Winnipeg, if people wish to provide help: food, clothing, shoes, toys and anything else for children to play with, while stuck in a hotel room.
There are many pets left behind in communities where people had to immediately evacuate. Some of those are in active fire zones, so those small animals must fend for themselves.
Several donation sites in Winnipeg have been set up for the animals:
Winakwa Community Centre at 980 Winakwa Road;PetSmart at 1050 Leila Avenue;K9 Advocates at 159 Gunn Road;The Royal Manitoba Yacht Club at 90 Kenabeek Street.
Temur Durrani reports on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for the Winnipeg Free Press.