Manitoba’s fire situation could be Canada’s most significant weather disaster of 2021, says climatologist

Click to play video: 'Southern Manitoba wildfire could be one of many' Southern Manitoba wildfire could be one of many
A wildfire south of Steinbach has been declared "out of control" by the province. With extremely dry conditions in Southern Manitoba, experts warn this could be a long summer for firefighting crews. Marek Tkach reports – May 10, 2021

A senior climatologist for Environment Canada is calling Manitoba’s dry spell — which has already resulted in an out-of-control forest fire in Sandilands Provincial Forest — a grave situation that could be one of Canada’s most significant crises of 2021.

David Phillips told 680 CJOB that so far this year, the province has only seen half of its usual amount of precipitation, and we’re now into a time of year that usually sees heavy rains in the region.

“We are, typically, into the so-called monsoon season on the prairies. Typically, from May, June, July, August, about 60 per cent of your annual precipitation occurs in those four months,” said Phillips.

Click to play video: 'Sandilands Fire on Sunday, May 9, 2021' Sandilands Fire on Sunday, May 9, 2021
Sandilands Fire on Sunday, May 9, 2021 – May 9, 2021

The bad news: that rain isn’t coming any time soon. Environment Canada is calling for sunshine all week long.

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“From my perspective — and I monitor things nationally — this could very well be the most important weather disaster in Canada this year, would be drought on the prairies,” said Phillips.

“The kind of weather (Manitoba needs), I hate to say it, would be good for mosquitoes. You need a kind of a soaking, percolating, drenching kind of rain — not a hit and run that would just run off into the rivers and not really get down into the soil where you need to work it.”

State of emergency

On Sunday, the Sandilands forest fire had already covered 800 hectares and was continuing to grow, according to the province’s fire map.

The situation has resulted in a state of local emergency being declared in the Rural Municipality of Piney.

Piney Reeve Wayne Anderson told Global News that means residents in the communities of Sandilands and Woodridge have to be ready on instant notice to evacuate if necessary.

Read more: Wildfire in Sandilands Provincial Forest deemed out of control, officials say

“When you have forest fire coming within couple of miles of your house, it’s very scary thing,” said Anderson.

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“This is a very forested area and we’re quite dry right now. We’re fortunate that we have cool weather and the winds are light, so it gives the wildfire crews time to attack it and knock it down.

“But of course, in a forest, there’s many hot spots everywhere and a large wind could fan it up at any time.”

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