Heavy smoke and mechanical problems delay evacuation efforts on Mathias Colomb Cree Nation

Heavy smoke and technical issues delayed final evacuations on Mathias Colomb Cree Nation as community members continue to flee an out-of-control wildfire on Sunday.

Ralph Caribou, the UCN coordinator for the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, has been actively working on the evacuations. The chief, a councilor and 40 residents were still trying to escape the area Sunday morning, Caribou said in an email to CBC.

“This morning heavy smoke continues,” he wrote. A helicopter and plane both helping with evacuation efforts experienced engine trouble on Saturday due to smoke, Caribou said, and were unable to take off.

Keewatin Railway Company trains were called to evacuate those remaining. Caribou said the boats were also prepared just in case.

The wildfire near Mathias Colomb now covers about 230 square kilometers and is within a kilometer of the community, the Manitoba Wildfire Service wrote in an email to CBC Sunday.

Additional support is being provided to the local fire department to ensure any fresh starts or flying embers are taken care of and to ensure that important infrastructure or individual homes are not damaged, the email states. .

The Northwest Territories sent four single-engine water bombers and an observation aircraft. Twenty Ontario firefighters will arrive today and tackle blazes in the northwest, the Manitoba Wildfire Service announced.

About 2,000 people have been evacuated from the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, Red Cross spokesman Jason Small said in an email to CBC. While the majority of residents have been transported by train, the remaining 30 to 40 people are being evacuated today, according to the Red Cross.

Crews from the Keewatin Railway Company, part-owned by Mathias Colomb and two other First Nations, worked around the clock to get the majority of residents out of the community safely. (Submitted by Anthony Mayham, KRC)

The Canadian military sent two transport planes on Saturday to help with the evacuation. One abducted 41 people and airlifted them about 200 kilometers south of The Pas, a spokesman for 17 Wing at Canadian Forces Base Winnipeg said.

Another military plane was dispatched earlier Friday to ferry people to Winnipeg – about 700 kilometers to the southeast – but was unable to land then due to poor visibility.

« The sky was yellow »

Mathias Colomb Cree Nation resident Charmaine Greene is a receptionist at the front desk of the community nursing station. She fled to Winnipeg on Friday.

She said the fire was so close to the nursing station on Friday that hoses and sprinklers were placed near the building.

Greene said she and another staff member had been in the office for three days directing calls for the evacuation process, before colleagues knocked on the door to let them know the fire was getting closer.

Woman outdoors, smiling.
Charmaine Greene, who works at the community nursing station, said the fire was so close that sprinklers and hoses were placed next to the building. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

« The sky was yellow and all you could see were dark gray clouds coming in. It was hard to breathe outside. »

Greene is relieved to have fled and says she hopes all the children and those with respiratory problems have been evacuated.

She said residents of Mathias Colomb used to smoke nearby forest fires in the summer, but she never saw an evacuation in the 11 years she lived there.


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