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WE010 fire near Cranberry Portage now "under control": Wildfire Service

The fire that threatened Cranberry Portage and several cabin areas is now considered to be "under control", according to the Manitoba Wildfire Service.
A Canadian water bomber drops payload.

The fire that threatened Cranberry Portage and several cabin areas near Flin Flon, the WE010 fire, is now considered to be "under control", according to the Manitoba Wildfire Service.

The service officially downgraded the fire from “being held” to "under control" May 28, indicating that firefighting efforts have kept it from growing in size or affecting any new areas. Local fire bans in Flin Flon, Creighton and Denare Beach have each been lifted.

The change was moved from "out of control" to "being held" May 23, after more than a week passed without no appreciable fire growth. No major hotspots have been reported with the fire in the past two weeks as of May 29, according to NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System. Spots along the edge of the burned area have been extinguished, say fire prevention sources, greatly limiting the fire from spreading.

While estimates of how much area had been affected by the fire range from source to source, as of May 29, official Manitoba records of the fire show it has burned 36,967 hectares of forest and that number has not changed since May 15.

Fire crews remain on the scene, in reduced numbers - down from the over 200 who helped fight the blaze at its height, about 40 people, including support staff, were charged with keeping the blaze quiet earlier this week. Six helicopters are also being used to monitor the fire, using infrared technology to detect possible hotspots in the brush. More grid scans will take place around Cranberry Portage to spot possible hotspots just in case.

Weather conditions around the area have been mostly overcast and cold since the blaze’s main eruption earlier this month, including occasional rain and even snowfall.

No new reports have been made about damaged properties from provincial authorities, but people with remote cabins have expressed worry that their properties may have burned - provincial government data shows that at least nine structures have burned down as a result of the fire, including eight at Sourdough Bay. That data does not include a count for cabins at places like Bryan Lake, which is not covered by a regional cottage association but does have wilderness cabins nearby.

Manitoba Highway 10 is back open, as are the Sherridon road and the rail line to Pukatawagan - all three were closed for periods as a result of the fire.


Local response

At the May 21 meeting of Flin Flon city council, Flin Flon Mayor George Fontaine thanked emergency personnel for keeping the community safe and for keeping services going and leadership informed, especially when the fire knocked out internet and phone service for several days during the battle.

“I want to compliment everybody who works for us and who worked for us without being our employees - there are so many people who showed some great dedication,” said Fontaine.

“Our administration was there and working hard all the time, trying to make arrangements with everybody else. The police and fire department came in and did their best to keep us informed all the way along, keep me informed, keep our senior staff informed to make sure we could pass messages along as best as we could without panicking anybody. We wanted people to know the situation was extremely serious, but we got some really lucky breaks and we came out relatively unscathed as communities, considering what could have happened if a few other things had gone wrong.”

Fontaine said the fire led to Flin Flon leadership, as well as councillors and administrators from Creighton and Denare Beach, to reevaluate their approach to possible emergency plans. Flin Flon’s local leadership set up shop in council chambers at City Hall, forming a sort of war room with mapping and most recent data from fire crews, showing what the City would need to protect, including the community’s water supply at Cliff Lake.

“We had maps on the wall, with everyone putting critical points in their community, things that might be danger points, things like infrastructure that we had to delineate, what we had and had to protect,” said Fontaine.

“There are some things around here where we’ve got to make sure that a fire doesn't get to - our water supplies, our sewer treatment supplies. Then there's some extremely powerful dangers around in terms of propane in big quantities, stuff like that. All those things got mapped out and listed over here.”

The City has a formal emergency plan in place, which has not ever needed to be used since it was first instituted. The fire exposed some holes in the plan, which councillors will seek to fix up - including factoring in input from local groups like the Flin Flon School Division, the Northern Health Region and leadership in Creighton and Denare Beach, as well as conservation officers.

“We found out what a lot of our gaping holes were, in terms of the plan. This week, we’re gathering facts - the COs, people working on there, we have questions and they should be able to provide answers to some of those questions,” said Fontaine.

“If what we know what we’re doing as a community, and we know the challenges, like not having communications, if we know those things that can go wrong, then we can better plan to deal with them. If they go wrong now, there’s a good chance they could go wrong again.”

“When we were two days in, three days in, we were saying we needed to talk with Creighton and Denare Beach. It was a very real possibility for us to have to plan for this, then we were saying, ‘What happens to us is going to happen to Creighton and Denare Beach,” said councillor Alison Dallas-Funk.

“Creighton has a plan, Denare has a plan, Flin Flon has a plan, we all have that orange binder - but nobody knew each other’s plan. Nobody had actually ever talked about that. When we had no communication, we all had to reach out to each other and say, ‘We need to have a meeting to discuss this.’”

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