Evacuations from fire-threatened Little Grand Rapids complete: Red Cross

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Evacuations from fire-threatened Little Grand Rapids complete: Red Cross

All evacuees from Little Grand Rapids First Nation have been brought to Winnipeg, a spokesperson from the Canadian Red Cross said Thursday evening, and remaining evacuees from nearby Pauingassi First Nation will be in the city by the end of the night.

Jason Small, a spokesperson for the Red Cross, said around 10 p.m. that evacuees from Pauingassi — which doesn't have an airstrip —have been brought by float plane from that community to Little Grand Rapids, about 20 kilometres away, where they will board other planes bound for Winnipeg.

The two First Nations are about 265 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, near the Ontario border.

"The last portion of Pauingassi evacuees are either waiting in Little Grand Rapids for one of the last flights to Winnipeg or they are in the air, on the way to Winnipeg," Small wrote in an email. "All of the evacuees are expected to be in Winnipeg by later tonight."

Evacuations have been ongoing from the two First Nations since Tuesday night, as a huge wildfire continues to rage nearby.

"I thought we were all going to die," Cornelia Owen, 19, said with a small laugh while standing outside a Winnipeg hotel Thursday afternoon.

"I laugh because I was nervous, I guess. I didn't find it funny, though."

The Pauingassi resident flew by military helicopter to Little Grand Rapids, and then took a plane to Red Lake, Ont., where she boarded an Armed Forces CC-130 Hercules to fly to Winnipeg.

"It was bumpy and scary, I guess," she said. "I mean, that's my first time riding that plane. There's weird noises as if the plane's going to crash or something."

When the evacuations are complete, the Red Cross will support roughly 2,000 fire evacuees, including those who fled fires approaching Sapotaweyak Cree Nation (in northwestern Manitoba) and Kinonjeoshtegon First Nation (in the Interlake).

Evacuees from Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi are staying in a number of Winnipeg hotels, orchestrated by the Canadian Red Cross.

John Eaglestick of Little Grand Rapids was waiting outside one of them Thursday. He wasn't staying there, but he was looking for his family members.

"All my family is here already in the city. I tried to find them but I can't find them right now. I don't know where they are," he said. "That's why I'm staying hanging around here, so maybe they'll come in here later on. I don't know."

Silas Keeper, also from Little Grand Rapids, said he was visiting Winnipeg when the fire broke out on Monday, and couldn't find an airline to fly him home on Wednesday.

His relatives are in Winnipeg now, but he said waiting to hear if they were safe was tough.

"It was nerve-racking. It was very, very scary," he said. "I was running around last night, calling everywhere, calling for my brothers, my sisters and that. I have faith. Everything's going to work out fine."

He's still worried about his home, although he said the adversity is bringing his family closer together. He's looking to his faith to help him grapple with it.

"A lot of prayer, man. A lot of prayer. A lot of support for various people."