More than 100 members from the Canadian Forces are deployed throughout Manitoba to assist in fighting wildfires in the province.
Four teams, each with 21 soldiers, were sent to four different locations on the weekend. Another team of 21 is expected to arrive in northwestern Manitoba by the end of Tuesday, Lt.-Col. Jesse van Eijk said Monday.
The soldiers are assisting crews from the province in monitoring wildfires in Sherridon, Nopiming, Gympsumville and Swan River.
“Most of them are actually camping along the fire lines overnight. During the day, they walk the fire line and check for any areas where there’s flare ups or hot spots, and they suppress those,” said van Eijk.
The federal government committed to sending up to 120 members as the number of wildfires grows in Manitoba.
While van Eijk is familiar with this type of work because he helped with the Saskatchewan fires in 2015, he said it’s rare for the army to help with wildfires in Manitoba.
“It’s been an exceptional year,” he said.
A dry, hot summer season and climate change has resulted in devastating wildfires across Western Canada.
Military crews are also helping with wildfires in British Columbia.
There are currently 128 active wildfires in the province, with about two dozen considered out of control, according to Manitoba Conservation and Climate’s latest fire update Monday afternoon.
The Manitoba government said the number of fires so far this year is slightly above average.
“We have a total of 351 fires for this year, whereas our normal average is about 322,” said Don Hallett, assistant director of Manitoba Wildfire Service.
The province says hydro lines along the east shore of Lake Winnipeg damaged by fire last week have been restored, but Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi First Nations remain without power.
Fires are still burning in the area, the province said, and there was no estimation of when power might be restored.
Workers continue to assess how safe it is for Manitoba Hydro employees to go in and repair the lines.
“We continue to prioritize the fires across the province to try (to) ensure that we put personnel and resources on to those fires that we believe are going to have a direct impact on communities and people,” said Hallett.
Meanwhile the Canadian Red Cross said Monday those evacuated from Red Sucker Lake First Nation last week have begun to return home.
In a release Monday the Red Cross said more than 100 residents of the First Nation, about 700 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, who have been staying in Brandon were flying home Monday afternoon.
Another group of more than 100 Red Sucker Lake residents who have been staying in Winnipeg are slated to fly home Tuesday.
The evacuated people from the other four First Nations, Pauingassi First Nation, Little Grand Rapids First Nation, Bloodvein First Nation and Berens River First Nation, are still out of their homes, staying in hotels in Winnipeg and Brandon.
There was no word on when they may be able to return home as of Monday.
Hallett said there’s no immediate threat of fires reaching communities at this time, noting “it’s predominantly the smoke issues that are causing issues.”
The Canadian Red Cross says it’s currently supporting 2,500 people who have had to evacuate from the five First Nations due to smoke and wildfires.
Groups from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are also helping with wildfire suppression in the province.
— with files from Shane Gibson