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WE010 fire near Cranberry Portage now ‘under control’: Wildfire Service

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The fire that threatened Cranberry Portage and several cabin areas is now considered “under control,” according to the Manitoba Wildfire Service.

The fire that threatened Cranberry Portage and several cabin areas near Flin Flon, known as the WE010 fire, is now considered “under control,” according to the Manitoba Wildfire Service.

The service officially downgraded the fire from “under control” to “under control” on May 28, indicating that firefighting efforts have prevented it from spreading or affecting new areas. Local fire bans in Flin Flon, Creighton and Denare Beach were each lifted.

The change was made from “out of control” to “under control” on May 23 after more than a week passed without significant fire growth. No major fires were reported in the past two weeks through May 29, according to NASA's Fire Information for Resource Management system. Fire safety sources said spots on the edge of the fire area have been extinguished, greatly limiting the fire's spread.

Estimates of the area affected vary from fire to fire, but official Manitoba state records show that 36,967 hectares of forest had already burned as of May 29, and that number has not changed since May 15.

Fire crews are still on the scene, but in reduced numbers – about 40 people, including support staff, were assigned to calm the fire earlier this week compared to the more than 200 who helped fight the fire at its peak. Six helicopters are also being used to monitor the fire, using infrared technology to detect possible hot spots in the underbrush. Additional grid scans are being conducted around Cranberry Portage to detect possible hot spots as a precaution.

Since the main outbreak of the fire earlier this month, weather conditions in the region have been mostly cloudy and cold, with occasional rain and even snowfall.

There have been no new reports of damaged buildings from provincial authorities, but residents of remote cabins have expressed fears that their homes may have burned. Provincial government data shows that at least nine buildings burned as a result of the fire, including eight in Sourdough Bay. This data does not include information on cabins in places like Bryan Lake, which is not covered by a regional cabin association but has wilderness cabins near it.

Manitoba Highway 10 is open again, as are Sherridon Road and the railway line to Pukatawagan – all three were temporarily closed as a result of the fire.

Local reaction

At the Flin Flon City Council meeting on May 21, Mayor George Fontaine thanked emergency responders for keeping the community safe, maintaining services and keeping those responsible informed, especially after internet and phone services were out for several days while firefighters fought the fire.

“I want to compliment everyone who works for us and also those who have worked for us without being our employees. There are so many people who have shown great commitment,” said Fontaine.

“Our administration was on the ground and working hard the whole time, trying to make arrangements with everyone else. The police and fire departments came and did their best to keep us informed the whole time, keep me informed, keep our senior staff informed, to make sure we could relay messages as best we could without panicking anyone. We wanted people to know that the situation is extremely serious, but we were really lucky and came out relatively unscathed as communities considering what could have happened if a few other things had gone wrong.”

Fontaine said the fire has prompted Flin Flon leaders, as well as city councilors and administrators from Creighton and Denare Beach, to rethink their approach to potential emergency plans. Flin Flon's local leadership has taken up residence in the council chambers at City Hall and set up a war room of sorts with maps and the latest data from the fire department showing what the city needs to protect, including the community's water supply at Cliff Lake.

“We had maps on the wall where everyone had marked critical points in their community, things that could be danger spots, things like infrastructure that we needed to delineate, what we had and what we needed to protect,” Fontaine said.

“There are some things here where we need to make sure that no fire reaches our water supply or our wastewater treatment plants. Then there are some extremely dangerous things in the form of propane in large quantities and things like that. All of those things have been mapped and listed here.”

The city has a formal emergency plan that has never been called into action since it was put in place. The fire has exposed some gaps in the plan that city councilors are now working to fill. They will also consider input from local groups such as the Flin Flon School Division, Northern Health Region and Creighton and Denare Beach leadership, as well as conservation officers.

“We have discovered many gaps in the plan. This week we are gathering facts – the COs and the people who work there have questions and they should be able to answer some of those questions,” Fontaine said.

“If we know what we're doing as a community and if we know the challenges, like lack of communication, if we know what can go wrong, then we can better plan how to deal with it. If it goes wrong now, there's a good chance it will go wrong again.”

“After two or three days, we said we needed to talk to Creighton and Denare Beach. It was a very real possibility for us to have to plan for this, and then we said, 'What happens to us happens to Creighton and Denare Beach,'” said Councilwoman Alison Dallas-Funk.

“Creighton has a plan, Denare has a plan, Flin Flon has a plan, we all have this orange binder – but nobody knew each other's plan. Nobody had actually ever talked about it. When we weren't communicating with each other, we all had to approach each other and say, 'We need to meet to discuss this.'”