Around 3,700 people from three Manitoba First Nations were forced from their homes on Tuesday afternoon by a nearby wildfire.
The entire community of Wasagamack First Nation, around 2,000 people, was told to evacuate Tuesday afternoon due to concerns about smoke as well as the fire, said Jason Small, a spokesperson for the Canadian Red Cross spokesperson. The Red Cross is assisting with evacuations.
Wasagamack residents are being taken by boat to St. Theresa Point, Small said. From there, they’ll be flown to Brandon and Winnipeg to stay in hotels.
Garden Hill and St. Theresa Point First Nations are also under partial evacuation orders for residents with health issues. More than 800 people from each community are affected and will also be flown to Brandon and Winnipeg.
“It’s quite tense. A lot of unanswered questions,” said Judy Klassen, the Liberal MLA who represents all three First Nations.
Klassen, who is originally from St. Theresa Point First Nation, said boats were going back and forth from Wasagamack to St. Theresa Point into the night.
“All available boats are being employed to get people from Wasagamack First Nation to St. Theresa [Point],” she said.
“They’re housing them there at our local gyms for now until their plane can come south.”
The communities are all within 20 kilometres of each other in Manitoba’s Island Lake region, roughly 570 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
“This is one fire which has been driven by winds toward Wasagamack First Nation,” Paul White, a spokesperson for the province of Manitoba, said in an email.
“Water bombers and a helicopter are working the fire,” he wrote.
Displaced people will be put up in hotels paid for by the federal government through an agreement with the Red Cross, Small said.
He said it’s the largest evacuation from Manitoba First Nations the Red Cross has helped with since that agreement was put in place in 2015.
“For us, it’s not that common,” he said.
Klassen said she’s spoken to residents in the area who described the scene to her.
“The smell of smoke is everywhere,” she said. “Ashes are falling, twigs are falling.”