Fires prompt travel ban across Southeast Manitoba

A water bombers flies through smoke from a wildfire in the Rural Municipality of Piney on the weekend.

Manitoba has imposed backcountry travel restrictions across the eastern part of the province as wildfires continue to burn and a dozen people were forced from their homes in the village of Badger.

Premier Greg Selinger and Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh traveled to the fire zone southeast of Steinbach to the Rural Municipality of Stuartburn Monday afternoon as the province deployed more firefighters and equipment to the wildfires.

There are two large 5,000 hectare fires burning northeast of the community of Carrick and southeast of Woodridge and Vita, officials said.

Two water bombers from Quebec were to join six Manitoba water bombers, six bulldozers, two helicopters and about 60 firefighters in the battle to quell the wildfires. More firefighters were also being called in, while the cause of the fires remains unknown.

So far, the fires have forced about a dozen people out of their homes in the village of Badger and more than 20,000 hectares of land have been lost in the Rural Municipality of Piney, since the fires started on the weekend.

The municipality banned all off-road travel on Sunday and the province followed suit on Monday, banning all backcountry travel across much of the southeast. All-terrain vehicles can travel the area only with permits in an area that includes Northwest Angle and Sandilands Provincial Forests, Whiteshell and Nopiming Provincial Parks and most of the area between Lake Winnipeg and the Ontario boundary.

Municipal Reeve Duane Boutang of Piney says high winds and hot weather have made the fires difficult to control.

"Very, very windy. Very, very dry and with the type of trees we have out there, they burn quickly. It's devastating out there," he said.

"It would be nice if [the winds] shifted due west, so then it would push the fire east where there are no residents. If it comes in from the southeast, we're in trouble."

When Donna Stewart went to bed Sunday night, the fire was five kilometres away from her home. When she woke around 1:30 a.m. Monday, it was a kilometre away.

She and her husband are now at the Piney Community Centre with other evacuees.

Stewart says everyone is on edge.

"Very very concerned about our property and the area. I mean, this is our home," she said.

Badger is located about 120 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg.