Residents of a Manitoba First Nation are being forced from their homes due to a raging wildfire.
The Canadian Red Cross says it’s supporting Indigenous Services Canada with the evacuation of community members from Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, an undertaking that began Thursday and is ongoing.
Mathais Colomb is a remote First Nation in northern Manitoba, with Pukatawagan as its main community.
The province said Friday the wildfire, roughly two kilometres east of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation. is estimated to cover 10,000 hectares.
Jason Small of the Canadian Red Cross told Global News an estimated 65 people had already been taken to safety, with further evacuations taking place Friday.
“We started yesterday by coordinating flights and working with the First Nation and with Indigenous Services Canada to start getting people out of the community,” he said.
“Yesterday, there was a little more than 25 who flew out of the community, mainly the highest health priorities. They stayed in Thompson in hotels. We also put up another 40 people in hotels in The Pas. They had already been out of the community.”
Small said at the moment, residents are being evacuated to safety in communities including Winnipeg by plane and helicopter, although there may be other methods of transportation “down the road” depending on conditions.
The role of the Red Cross in a situation like this, he said, is to support the at-risk community with the evacuation process.
“Our role is to get them out of the community, get them some lodging, food, help them with other basic needs. If (they) need assistance within the community we can provide that, but right now they’re handling it quite well on their own.”
Cailin Hodder of the Manitoba Wildfire Service told Global News that there was a fire in the Pukatawagan area Thursday, but wind activity and additional lightning caused it to grow.
“Any lightning-caused fires can be concerning, because they often start in very remote areas, and it takes time to locate the fire, be notified of the fire, and action the fire,” Hodder said.
“This particular fire is very large, very hot, and it was moving very quickly.”
The decision to evacuate, she said, was made very quickly, as the blaze began moving toward the community — but there could be some hope on the horizon if the forecast is accurate.
“It fortunately hasn’t grown too much in size overnight and it also didn’t move too much west overnight.
“Tomorrow we’re also expecting some wind shifts as well, which would blow it away from the community. We’ll continue to assess on an hour-by-hour basis at this point.”
The Manitoba Wildfire Service said as of Friday afternoon there were 39 fires burning in the province, including three that have started in the past 24 hours.
The province warns wildfire dangers are high throughout Manitoba and high to extreme in northwestern Manitoba due to increased lightning and minimal precipitation.
Air-quality statements have been issued for parts of northwest Manitoba due to smoke.
–With files from Shane Gibson