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‘Frightening to see’: Manitoba wildfire spread surprisingly fast, forcing evacuation

WINNIPEG — Crews are continuing to battle a wildfire in northwest Manitoba that has forced the evacuation of some 550 residents.

Earl Simmons, the province’s wildfire director, says the blaze near Cranberry Portage was whipped by winds on the weekend and spread at surprising speed.

The fire has come within 1.5 kilometres of the community and residents were told Saturday to leave.

A section of the main highway in the region was closed and rail service was cancelled.

With reduced winds, the size of the fire has been holding at more than 300 square kilometres and it has not encroached further toward Cranberry Portage.

Simmons says the fire was started by lightning and boosted by very dry conditions and strong winds on Saturday.

“I’ve been working in wildfire for 40 years. I’ve never seen a fire move like this fire moved,” Simmons told reporters Monday.

“It was growing two kilometres (an hour) on the head — the front of the fire. On the flanks, it was growing over a kilometre an hour.”

The municipal emergency co-ordinator for Cranberry Portage and the surrounding region recalled seeing the flames.

“It was moving very fast. It changed very quickly and (it was) extremely frightening to see,” Lori Forbes said.

The strong winds made for smoky air as far away as Winnipeg, 600 kilometres to the southeast, on Sunday.

There was not much damage reported, but the fire was still out of control Monday.

“We could be fighting that fire a month from now,” Simmons said.

Everyone appeared to have left the area safely.

“We’ve got people in houses, whether they’re with family or friends or in hotels. We’ve got some food being prepared by local communities, which has been amazing,” Forbes said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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