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Manitoba wildfires get aviation assets moving

May 15, 2012, Piney, Man. - Officials in southeastern Manitoba are meeting this morning to consider evacuating residents due to a fast-growing wildfire.


May 15, 2012
By The Canadian Press

The RM of Piney declared a state of emergency Sunday, giving it the power to close roads in the wake of two days of wildfires that consumed 30 square kilometres of forest over the weekend in the Sandilands Provincial Park.

Officials are also going to ask Premier Greg Selinger to throw the weight of the province into a travel ban across the whole southeast corner of Manitoba.

Councillor Donald Winnicky said that way, conservation officers can chase people out of the back country.

Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship had six water bombers, three bulldozers, three tanker planes, four helicopters, and more than 35 firefighters fighting to beat back the flames.

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The province identified the big fires as located northeast of Carrick and southeast of Woodridge, closer to the Minnesota border than to the Trans-Canada Highway.

"Any time you get fire in that area, it's a homogenous stand of pines, once it gets going, it's hard to put out,'' said Manitoba Conservation forest fire chief Gary Friesen.

The combination of resinous pines, dry conditions and a hot wind ignited the land.

Winnicky says the fear is shifting winds could push the fire back toward the town.

"It could make a circle,'' said Winnicky, explaining a ring of fire could threaten lives and homes in the RM of about 1,700 people.

There were no evacuations and no injuries reported over the weekend.

The public was warned to use extreme caution in the area, which is famous for drawing hundreds of all-terrain vehicles to its flat sandy trails.

At the same time, RCMP in Lac du Bonnet and Pinawa redirected traffic off Highway 211, at the junction of Hwy 11, after a separate fire was reported on a bridge across the Winnipeg River. Poor visibility from smoke caused the closure of a section of Hwy 211, leading to Pinawa, Conservation and RCMP said.

Pinawa resident Josh Powaskchuk said by early evening bush fires on either side of a bridge that links Hwy 211 to Pinawa were largely out.

The province is using bulldozers on the ground and water bombers in the air to combat wildfires blazing in bush country east of Steinbach, a Conservation spokesman said Sunday.

Two fires are burning in the area northeast of Carrick and southeast of Wood Ridge. The most dangerous one covers 1,300 hectares of forest and grassland. A smaller fire has sprung up nearby.

High winds and low humidity are fueling the spread of flames and provincial conservation officials are urging the public in the area to exercise extreme caution to protect themselves and prevent the spread of the fire.

"Municipal fire crews continue to be supported by over 30 forest fire fighters from Manitoba Conservation-Water Stewardship along with three bulldozers to cut fire lines, and substantial air resources; five water bombers and three helicopters and later today a single engine air tanker group,'' the spokesman said.

No homes in the area are threatened and no evacuations are ordered.

No official cause for the fires have been determined but the province has a fire investigator on the case, looking into the cause and origin of it.

Dry weather and high winds in southern Manitoba this spring have contributed to a number of dangerous grass fires.