Help needed in fighting St. Laurent wildfire

Frieda Kirpan points to an area that was bulldozed on Saturday to help stop grass fires from spreading to her land.

The fire chief in the Rural Municipality of St. Laurent says his department needs volunteers to help fight a wildfire that has been burning for weeks.

The fire started in a remote gravel pit, when some equipment was set ablaze two weeks ago.

St. Laurent fire Chief Réal Fontaine said he had believed the original fire was extinguished at the time, but it has continued to grow into the most challenging fire he has dealt with in his 18 years as fire chief.

Fontaine told CBC News his volunteer firefighters are exhausted, and they still have to work during the day.

"I wish there was more we can do. I mean, we're trying the best we can, it's very difficult for us," he said in an interview Monday.

"We have a complement of 18 to 20 firefighters. But during the day, everybody's working."

Anyone who wants to volunteer can call the rural municipality's office. Fontaine said no experience is needed to help.

A St. Laurent resident said blame for the wildfire falls squarely on the shoulders of rural municipality officials.

The fire, which has been covering about 50 acres, went out of control on Saturday, forcing fire departments from the RM and surrounding communities to respond along with provincial waterbombers.

Frieda Kirpan said it all could have been prevented had officials taken her calls seriously when she first spotted the smoke two weeks ago.

Kirpan said she called fire crews repeatedly, who would come out, back burn the area, then leave, she said.

So she and her husband would go out with their own water to try and put out hot spots, which then spread.

"It was blazing. It was absolutely blazing. And we didn't know what the heck to do because if it would have crossed the road, that bush comes right to my house," she said.

Crews on Monday were still monitoring a few hot spots, and Kirpan is worried it could flare up again with more heavy winds.

Fontaine acknowledged that the fire is moving closer to people's homes, and he is especially concerned about strong winds being forecast for Tuesday.

"We're very worried, and I don't blame everybody else around there to be worried as well," he said.

"They work hard for their properties … and they all should be protected as best as possible."

That wasn't the only grass fire on the weekend. Up to 30 fire departments, dozens of firefighters and water bombers were used to douse the flames of two other grassfires — one near Souris and another at Dominion City.

The province has cancelled all burning permits in the western, central, and eastern parts of Manitoba.

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