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Premier Kinew visits region, meets emergency workers and evacuees, pledges more support to fight fire

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew visited Flin Flon and The Pas Tuesday, meeting with first responders, fire crews, emergency assistance personnel and local leaders.
Flin Flon Mayor George Fontaine and Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew meet during Kinew's visit to Flin Flon and The Pas May 14. The Premier came north to meet with emergency personnel helping to fight the WE010 fire and people who have had to flee their homes because of the blaze.

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew visited Flin Flon and The Pas Tuesday, meeting with first responders, fire crews, emergency assistance personnel and local leaders.

During his May 14 visit to the area, Kinew visited a command centre set up at the Flin Flon Airport, rode with fire crews on a helicopter to survey the WE010 fire from the air and met with emergency response teams at the Victoria Inn in Flin Flon. After a scrum with local press and a meeting with Flin Flon city councillors and executive staff, Kinew and his team headed to The Pas to meet with the response team there. The fire has burned over 37,300 hectares of forest since first starting last week and caused people from Cranberry Portage and several cabin areas to evacuate the area.

Kinew, in his first visit to Flin Flon since being elected as premier last fall, said what he saw from the air was alarming and that more resources would come north to help combat the fire.

"We just got down from a helicopter, we were able to survey the wildfire situation. It's very, very serious," said Kinew during the visit.

"It's a very striking thing to see not only the flames and the smoke today, but also the area that's been impacted. When you see firsthand how close it got to Cranberry, when you're in the air and you see smoke in the foreground and can see the smokestack and Flin Flon in the background, it really tells you how serious the situation is."

The premier gave thanks to emergency workers and volunteers handling the efforts in fighting the fire and assisting people who have been evacuated from their homes, saying the work involved was complicated and several different people and agencies working together.

"One of the things that really stands out to me is the complexity of the response right now. We have a huge amount of gratitude and thanks to the folks from the [Manitoba] Wildfire Service, the Office of the Fire Commissioner, Manitoba Hydro, RCMP, the local fire departments from Flin Flon, The Pas, Cranberry Portage, the Vale crew that was out, there's so many moving parts to this thing - and that's just the situation at Bakers Narrows and Cranberry," he said.

"When you take into account the evacuees, the response that's being set up in communities like Flin Flon to help these Manitobans in a difficult time, I just want to express gratitude and sincere appreciation because a lot of people are going through a tough time right now. It's the Manitoba way for people to step up and we're seeing that here in Flin Flon."

While Kinew did not give specifics on what further provincial resources will go into fighting the blaze, he said the province would supply whatever is needed to extinguish the fire and bring people back home safely.

"Whatever is required to fight the fire is going to go out the door, in terms of resources. More resources are on the way - we just spoke to the Ontario firefighters who touched down a short time ago to help with more assistance on that front - and whatever's needed to support people who were evacuated from their homes, who had to leave. We're touching base with folks here in Flin Flon and we'll be visiting The Pas later today," he said.

"Now that we've seen the fire, we wanted to see the situation with evacuees and kind of assess what's needed."

Over the next week, Kinew said he sees the response being scaled up, including further use of fire crews from across the province and from other provinces, including Quebec.

"I think the response continues to be scaled up. They've done a very good job at setting up the command center and Bakers Narrows and as more resources come in, more firefighters - I think we're gonna see some folks arriving from some other provinces like Quebec as well. They've basically set up the framework right now - as resources come in, they'll be able to grow that response in a way that's coordinated, keeping people safe and helping to fight the fire as efficiently as possible," he said.

Kinew also mentioned one thing firefighters had brought up with him earlier in the day - how early in the season the fire is. Typically, Manitoba's fire season doesn't start in earnest until at least May long weekend - the WE010 fire started more than a week before that. A dry winter and drought-like conditions in northern forests haven't helped matters. 

"I think the thing that stands out for me is how early in the year we are, relative to some other fire seasons. The comment was made by a few firefighters that typically it's after May long, but here we are, before that date and we're already seeing a very serious situation," he said.

While other northern fires in the past have led to international fire crews coming to the region to help fight, including South African crews in 2021, Kinew said so far the fire response has not yet included international crews, saying help has been called from other provinces first.

"One of the things that we saw last year, for instance, is that Manitobans were able to go help in the Northwest Territories, British Columbia and Alberta. We did that last year and now other provinces are stepping up to help us. It's the Canadian thing to do, I guess we could say."

Kinew said anyone seeking to find a relative or friend affected by the fires or anyone with questions about assistance or other services should contact 211.

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