The line that supplies the First Nations of Berens River, Bloodvein, Little Grand Rapids, Poplar River and Pauingassi, as well as the communities of Loon Straits and Manigotagan, was lost after midnight on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Manitoba Hydro said. “We believe this is due to the damage caused by the forest fires,” spokesman Bruce Owen said in an email.
Percy Swain works with the water treatment team at Berens River First Nation, approximately 275 kilometers north of Winnipeg, and remains on site to monitor homes while most of the community has been evacuated to Brandon and Winnipeg.
He says the smoke from two large fires to the south and east is so thick he can’t see the end of his driveway.
“There are so many other small fires happening. They are getting bigger and bigger every day, ”he said on Wednesday.
Manitoba Hydro made arrangements with the province to conduct a ground patrol of the section of the damaged power line near the road on Wednesday morning, Owen said. There is currently no estimate of when power will be restored.
The fires have already forced more than 1,300 people to leave four of the affected communities – Berens River, Little Grand Rapids, Bloodvein and Pauingassi First Nations, the Red Cross said in an update on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Armed Forces confirmed on Wednesday that specially trained troops from CFB Shilo in Manitoba will deploy to the affected area on Friday to help fight the wildfire.
A total of 120 forces will be dispatched to fight the fires, the majority of which are based in Shilo, Captain Terrilyn Maclean told CBC News.
Growing security concerns
Pauingassi First Nation Chief Roddy Owens said about 400 members of his community were taken by seaplane and helicopter with help from the Red Cross.
But the rescue effort highlights a growing safety concern for the remote community accessible by air, about 280 kilometers northeast of Winnipeg.
“Our community does not have an airport and with the increase in forest fires, the safety of our members is threatened. We have been lobbying for this critical infrastructure for several years now, ”he said Wednesday in a press release from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
“This crisis has once again revealed that Pauingassi is one of two First Nations communities in Manitoba without an airport and served by a seasonal winter road. We are one of the most remote First Nations communities in Manitoba.