Wildfire burns along Red River during tinder-dry weekend

·4 min read
A grass fire burns Sunday afternoon in a marsh about 8 kilometres west of Libau, Man.  (Travis Golby/CBC - image credit)
A grass fire burns Sunday afternoon in a marsh about 8 kilometres west of Libau, Man. (Travis Golby/CBC - image credit)

A fire along the Red River filled the area near Breezy Point, Man., with smoke through the weekend.

Officials with the RM of St. Clements said the fire started east of the Red River on Crown land some time Saturday afternoon. A Manitoba spokesperson said crews are monitoring the large fire in the Libau Marsh area north of Selkirk, and are working with local communities.

As of Sunday afternoon, the fire was still burning, sending thick black smoke into the sky. Fire crews are still determining the cause and size of the fire.

St. Clements CAO Deepak Joshi said provincial crews are monitoring the fire in helicopters, and the East Selkirk Fire Department is doing what it can to help out. He said the area where the fire is burning is heavy brush, and can't be reached by roads or paths.

A grassfire burns Saturday afternoon along the east bank of the Red River, across from Breezy Point, Man.
A grassfire burns Saturday afternoon along the east bank of the Red River, across from Breezy Point, Man.(Submitted by Chris Heald)

"The closest we were able to get was a couple of miles away," he said.

"There are no significant concerns at this point. It's not close to any settlements or any habitation."

Witness worries Manitobans ignoring burn bans

Chris Heald is with the Manitoba Wildlife Federation — a not-for-profit group that works with provincial conservation. He was fishing with his son Saturday when he saw the flames on the bank across from the Breezy Point boat launch. That's when he called a conservation officer he knew, and gave the location.

"They quickly picked up the local fire department and toured the area and assessed it with them," said Heald. "It was really quick. Like within an hour I think they were there and assessing the fire to see if it could burn in different directions."

Black smoke floats into the sky as a wildfire burns on the east bank of the Red River, across from Breezy Point, Man.
Black smoke floats into the sky as a wildfire burns on the east bank of the Red River, across from Breezy Point, Man.(Submitted by Chris Heald)

Heald said he's concerned some Manitobans aren't following provincial burn bans, and worries the fire was caused by humans.

"There were hundreds of vehicles parked along there, fishing the banks of the Red River. Which is nice to see. Everybody wants to get out fishing," said Heald. "Everybody just has to be really safe with, you know, fires. There's no fires [allowed] and people need to learn to respect that."

The province announced Thursday it was banning campfires and backcountry camping while also closing several trails due to the risk of wildfires. Most of southern Manitoba is under some sort of burning restriction as of Sunday.

Nearby grassfire caused by humans

The smoke along the Red River caught the attention of several people driving, fishing and living nearby. Clandeboye fire chief Ed Paskaruk told CBC News his department received two calls around 4:30 p.m. Saturday about the incident, which he deferred to the East Selkirk crews.

A third call did come in around 7:30 p.m. Saturday, however, about a small grassfire near Netley Creek at the end of Breezy Point Road. Paskaruk said that was caused by young adults, and the fire was quickly put out.

Meanwhile, the RM of Piney continues to be under a state of emergency as provincial fire crews work to get a week-old wildfire under control. That fire is burning between Sandilands and Woodridge, Man. Officials say as of Sunday, it's maintained, but not under control.

"The volunteer fire department tried to give them any support they could, such as bringing in water ... and giving them directions on where the valuable assets were — where the houses were and so forth," said Reeve Wayne Anderson.

"We were very lucky. With all the good work from the crews and water bombers, there were no lives lost. No property lost. We did lose a lot of valuable timber, which is an asset for all the province, of course."

Anderson now urges his constituents to follow all burn bans, including bonfires.

"If we get some rain on Wednesday and the leaves are starting to come out and the grass is starting to grow and the conditions are going to improve in the next week or so, then we can go back to our regular activities of living out here," he said.

"But for now, with these conditions, we have to be very vigilant."

Environment Canada issues air quality statements

Wildfires in different parts of Manitoba are causing air quality issues. On Sunday, Environment Canada issued air quality statements for areas near Hecla, Dauphin, McCreary and Swan River. The statement warns smokes from wildfires burning northeast of Dauphin and in the Lake St. Martin area is making it hard to breathe and reducing visibility in some areas.

The statement notes people at high risk of health problems includes older adults, young children, pregnant women, people with chronic conditions and those living with a COVID-19 infection.

The fire in St. Clements burned through Saturday night. Crews are still working to monitor the flames, and figure out how they started.
The fire in St. Clements burned through Saturday night. Crews are still working to monitor the flames, and figure out how they started.(Gabriela Klimes/CBC)
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