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Fire update, May 16: Help on way from Quebec, N.B., fire growth slows, Ottawa approves firefighting funds

No news is good news on the forest fire front. Little new information came on the WE010 fire Thursday, but the blaze's growth seems to be slowing and more help is coming.
The WE010 fire, as seen May 11 from the tower at Bakers Narrows Provincial Park. The fire has caused several nearby communities to be evacuated, including Cranberry Portage.

No news is good news on the forest fire front. Little new information came on the WE010 fire Thursday, but the blaze's growth seems to be slowing and more help is coming.

The fire has burned around 37,000 hectares of forest since it started last week, according to most recent Manitoba Wildfire Service and Natural Resources Canada mapping. New hotspots have been spotted around the perimeter of the fire, but the rapid growth it showed late last week has slowed down as fire crews continue the fight and the weather cools down.

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. People from those communities are still not able to return home and there is not yet a firm date for when that could change. There are reports of properties lost in cabin subdivisions, but where and how many have not been fully confirmed.

More help is coming to fight the fire though, with two other provinces sending firefighters and supplies this week on top of the crews fighting the fire from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario and local crews and fire departments.

"Air tankers and helicopters with buckets have been working on the fire. More fire crews from Manitoba are added daily, along with a Parks Canada fire crew that is arriving today. Additional crews are expected from New Brunswick [and] Quebec in the coming week," reads a provincial update issued May 16.

A second set of helping hands will come for future fire seasons. The provincial and federal governments announced an agreement May 16 to jointly put a combined $38.4 million into a new program to buy firefighting equipment, increase training and emergency planning and response capacity. The money will be spent over the next four years. The program will be covered under Ottawa's Fighting and Managing Wildfires in a Changing Climate Program Equipment Fund.

"As another difficult wildfire season is underway in many provinces and territories, the governments of Canada and Manitoba are committed to continuing to support Canadians and Manitobans, while strengthening our ability to adapt to a changing climate," reads the announcement.

Manitoba Highway 10 is still partially open to traffic, operating on a convoy system with groups of drivers led by RCMP pilot vehicles through a burned area running from past Bakers Narrows to near Cranberry Portage. The escorts will take place from 8 a.m. to midnight each day, with the road being barricaded overnight.

Flin Flon, Creighton and Denare Beach are still not in any imminent danger from the fire, though smoke from the blaze may come through the area intermittently later this week. Forecasting from originally stated that Flin Flon would be covered in thick smoke Thursday, but the area has barely been impacted as of 3 p.m. Thursday. A special air quality statement for the Flin Flon and Snow Lake areas, issued by Environment Canada, was called off Thursday afternoon.

Local fire bans are still in effect for Flin Flon, Creighton, Denare Beach, the Rural Municipality of Kelsey and Snow Lake.

The fire is still about 13 kilometres away from Flin Flon, according to most recent Manitoba Wildfire Service and Natural Resources Canada mapping - the same distance it has been for the past few days. The City of Flin Flon advises that the community is not under threat from the fire currently, but advises locals to pack emergency kits in case the situation changes. The fire is about 1.5 kilometres north of Cranberry Portage, having been kept at bay for roughly the past three days.

Two communities remain stranded due to the fires. Pukatawagan, which is only connected by land in summer months by a rail line, is still cut off but may be connected again next week. The Keewatin Railway Company, which operates the Pukatawagan rail line, said in a statement May 14 that the tracks are passable but that the company is still waiting for provincial approval to run again. Service on the line was suspended until at least May 18 once the fire broke out, but railway crews headed out earlier this week to fix the line and possibly get it ready for freight.

Sherridon is also still cut off - its transport link, Manitoba Highway 800, connects with Highway 10 near Twin Lakes, one of the main areas the fire has burned close to. Several kilometres of the road near the junction have been affected by the blaze and a reopening date for the road is not yet known.

Local governments for Flin Flon, Creighton and Denare Beach have each encouraged residents to pack emergency kits in case the fire worsens. All three have asked anyone with health or mobility issues to register with their home community in case they need help if people need to evacuate the area. Anyone needing to register can do so by calling or visiting either the Flin Flon City Hall, Creighton Town Office or Denare Beach Village Office - people can register loved ones in case they can't do so themselves.

Hydro, internet and phone service has been restored across most of the communities near the fire - some landline services have experienced occasional outages since service was restored Tuesday night.

Environment Canada weather forecasts for the Flin Flon area call for cloud and rain showers for the next several days, including a 30 per cent chance of showers Thursday night and through to Friday morning. The forecast also calls for rain from Friday night through to at least Monday afternoon, with highs in the low-double-digits and overnight lows near zero.

Local businesses are also continuing to help out in different ways. In Flin Flon, the local Lions Club and Chicken Chef have set up an account to help feed evacuees free of charge. The two combined to open up an account worth $2,000 to pay for evacuees' meals on a first-come, first-served basis. Evacuees hoping to use that account are asked to bring a copy of their registration or a meal slip from the Victoria Inn control centre to confirm their meal. The Twin Motors vehicle dealership hosted free barbecues for evacuees earlier this week and the Freedom's Way Thrift Store has offered registered evacuees in need of clothes free bags of garments if needed.

The City courted some controversy Wednesday night with an online update that said that air quality was deteriorating in the community and might get worse, saying "people may wish to travel outside of the community at this time" and that "significant news will be communicated immediately." When reached for comment by The Reminder, City representatives said the community is still not in imminent danger and the post's wording did not mean the area was facing any evacuation order.

The update also included statements that large towed items would not be allowed to be brought out of town in case of an evacuation, like campers and boats. The update was later edited, walking back that restriction, but mentioning that campers, boats or other trailers may pose safety risks if people need to leave in large numbers all at once. The City update also called for campers or boats, along with people's pets, to be moved from town early if the situation changes and an evacuation seems imminent.

The Flin Flon chapter of Canada Post is back to delivering mail after the fire and associated issues led to a few days of backlogs in delivery. Outgoing mail will also be sent away from Flin Flon again, once more after a fire-caused pause. 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.

Anyone affected by the fires who needs help can call 211 or toll-free at 1-855-274-1187 or use chat-based options at

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