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Fire update, May 15: Blaze continues, rain in the forecast for coming days, Flin Flon still safe but smoky

The WE010 fire continues to burn more forest near Flin Flon, Cranberry Portage and Manitoba Highway 10. Weather forecasts in the coming days call for rain, which may help fight the blaze.
A Canadian water bomber drops payload.

The WE010 fire continues to burn more forest near Flin Flon, Cranberry Portage and Manitoba Highway 10. Weather forecasts in the coming days call for rain, which may help fight the blaze.

Mapping from Natural Resources Canada shows the fire has affected about 31,600 hectares of forest as of May 15, with recent burns and hotspots taking place in virtually every direction. The fire, which was started by a lightning strike after a storm moved through the area last week, has led to residents of Cranberry Portage and the cabin subdivisions of Bakers Narrows, Schist Lake North, Sourdough Bay, Twin Lakes and Whitefish Lake being evacuated from their homes. Two other communities have been stranded by the fire, cutting off vital transport links - Pukatawagan, which has no all-weather road and is connected by a rail line affected by the fire and Sherridon/Cold Lake, which is connected by a gravel road that meets Manitoba Highway 10 at Twin Lakes.

The fire remains about a kilometre and a half away from Cranberry Portage, with most people from the community now in The Pas. Students from Frontier Collegiate, the local high school and a hub for students from remote northern communities without their own high school, were evacuated from the school and taken to The Pas, then flown back to their home communities - Cranberry Portage-area students remain away from home. There is not yet a timeline for when people evacuated from their homes can return.

Flin Flon, Creighton and Denare Beach are not in any imminent danger from the fire. Natural Resources Canada mapping this afternoon showed that a branch of the fire had burned toward Bear and McBratney Lakes, putting the fire about 11 kilometres away from Flin Flon at its closest point - by the evening, that portion was removed from official mapping, keeping the fire roughly where it was a day earlier, about 13 kilometres away from Flin Flon.

The City of Flin Flon advises that the community is not under threat from the fire currently, but advises locals to pack together emergency kits in case the situation changes.

Manitoba Highway 10 is partially open, with RCMP leading groups of drivers through a stretch of the road from near Bakers Narrows to just past Cranberry Portage the fire had previously crossed. Police are leading convoys through the area from 8 a.m. to midnight daily, with the road closed and barricaded overnight.

Some good news is on the way according to recent weather forecasts, which predict six straight days of rain starting Wednesday. According to Environment Canada, Wednesday's weather forecast calls for rain - a 60 per cent chance of showers late in the afternoon, though the rain does include a risk of a thunderstorm.

A wave of rain came into Flin Flon around noon Wednesday, but lightning strikes have been reported on the west side of Amisk Lake. The forecast also calls for high winds, blowing toward the northwest with gusts up to 50 kilometres an hour. That may keep the fire from spreading closer to Cranberry Portage, but may also push the flames closer to Flin Flon, which is located northwest of most of the burned area.

The showers are expected to continue intermittently into Wednesday night and into the wee hours of Thursday morning, then continuing through the next five days, with highs dropping into the low double-digits and even into the single digits and overnight lows not far above zero.

Environment Canada also issued a special air quality statement for the Flin Flon area at noon Wednesday, with wind blowing smoke from the fire into Flin Flon. The agency calls for people who may be more heavily impacted by smoke, including seniors, infants or anyone who smokes, works outside, is pregnant and/or has an existing chronic health condition to monitor symptoms and cease strenous physical activity if the smoke causes issues.

"Smoke is causing poor air quality and reduced visibility in some areas due to wildfires in the region. Air quality and visibility due to wildfire smoke can fluctuate over short distances and can vary considerably from hour to hour. The fine particles in wildfire smoke pose the main health risk. As smoke levels increase, health risks increase," reads the statement.

The City of Flin Flon is asking anyone with health or mobility issues to register with the City as part of emergency preparedness efforts. Registration can be done by calling City Hall at (204) 681-7511 or by visiting City Hall in-person - people are able to sign their loved ones up on their behalf.

Flin Flon, Creighton, Denare Beach and the RM of Kelsey have local fire bans in effect - as of May 15, so does the Town of Snow Lake, whose ban on all fires, including fire pits, fireworks and burning of solid fuel implements such as wood or pellet stoves, carries a $1,000 fine and the offender to pay any costs if the fire gets out of hand.

Evacuation orders are still in effect for the affected areas, including Cranberry Portage. Over a thousand residents in total - around between 500 and 600 from Cranberry Portage and about 550 from cabin subdivision areas - have been displaced due to the fire. Evacuees in Flin Flon are asked to register at an emergency control centre at the Victoria Inn - evacuees in The Pas are asked to register at another control centre, set up at the Wescana Inn.

Some properties at cabin areas between Cranberry Portage and Flin Flon have been lost - no estimates for how many properties or total damages have yet been announced.

Internet and phone service, which was disconnected for most Flin Flon residents starting late Saturday, went back on Tuesday evening.

The fire, smoke and associated travel issues have caused Canada Post to issue delivery service alerts for the area. The national postal service issued a red delivery service alert for Cranberry Portage May 13, meaning all deliveries would be suspended and postworkers would not be delivering mail. Flin Flon and Sherridon are under yellow delivery service alerts, meaning deliveries will still be done but there may be delays in receiving mail.

The WE011 fire, which started near Wanless last week during the same storm that triggered the WE010 fire, has now burned around 9,350 hectares of land and counting, with new hotspots reported to the south and west of the blaze's original starting point. That means the fire's growth toward Wanless itself has slowed - the blaze is about three kilometres away from Wanless at its closest.

The Reminder will issue daily reports on the WE010 fire and associated issues for regional residents until the situation subsides. No issue of The Reminder was published and distributed May 15 due to internet outages and the partial closure of Highway 10 - now that the internet is back on, phone lines are working and the road is open, The Reminder will be able to compile, publish and distribute its next edition.

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