Fire Fighting in Canada

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Evacuation order lifted as southern Manitoba wildfire eases

Oct. 4, 2012, Winnipeg – Occupants of about 40 homes evacuated from the town of Ross, Man., were allowed to return on Wednesday.

October 4, 2012
By The Canadian Press

Oct. 4, 2012, Winnipeg – An early winter storm may prove to be the biggest help to crews fighting stubborn wildfires in southern Manitoba.

Environment Canada is forecasting a mix of snow and rain in the area over the next few days, and for once, seeing the white stuff so early in October will come as a relief.

Occupants of about 40 homes evacuated from the town of Ross, Man., were allowed to return on Wednesday.

Over in Vita, where 300 people were ordered out for most of the day Tuesday, homeowners were taking stock of the damage left behind.

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"It was coming this way, so I thought our house would be the first to go," said Andrew Wiseman.

He returned Wednesday and was surprised to see his house is still standing, though flames came within a metre of the building.

His two neighbours weren't as lucky. Their homes were turned to ash.

"It was hard, very hard. I wish it (had) never happened," said Margaretha Martens, whose home burned to the ground.

"We lost everything."

But at least no one was hurt in the fires, not even two motorists who were driving in the thick smoke and plunged over the edge of a burned-out bridge.

Some had close calls. Sandra Andresen was alone in her home on her acreage, baking, and didn't realize her property was completely surrounded by smoke and flames.

Lothar Dueck, the community's pharmacist for 31 years, spotted the smoke and decided to drive out and check on his long-time customer. By the time he got there, the roof of her house was burning and the barn was already destroyed.

"He drove through the flames blocking my parents' driveway, picked up my mom and drove out again in heavier flames, charring/burning his truck," Sandra's son, Chris Andresen, told the Winnipeg Free Press in an email.

"If it wasn't for Lothar, my mom would have been a casualty of this fire."

Though the danger was lessened Wednesday, fire crews were still on the job in several areas.

"Municipal and provincial staff members continue to address fires near St. Malo and the municipalities of Grahamdale and St. Laurent," the province said in a statement Wednesday.

"Winds are forecast to remain high today, which could cause some areas of concern."

People in the community of Richer were on guard, meanwhile, with the winds pushing fires towards that area for the second time in two days.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the province said crews were winning the fire fight, with changes in weather helping.

Dan and Susan Gendron of Ross, Man., and their three dogs spent Tuesday night in their minivan, forced to pack up and leave their home as swiftly as possible.

"So, we started to get stuff together as quick as we could and five minutes later, another RCMP (officer) showed up and said, `You gotta go,'" said Don Gendron.

Premier Greg Selinger toured the area on Wednesday, flying over Vita and Ross.

"This normally is a wet area but this is the second year in a row where we've had very serious fires virtually at the same time of the year," he said.

He also acknowledged that for the second year, poor cell phone service made it difficult for emergency crews to communicate.

He said that's something his government will work on.