Berens River First Nation on Manitoba’s eastern border is flying some residents to Brandon to temporarily house them, due to overwhelming smoke from wildfires in Manitoba and neighbouring northwestern Ontario. The move is until conditions improve in their community, a spokesperson for the Canadian Red Cross said on Tuesday.
"They are on a flight today, coming to hotels and staying in Brandon," Jason Small told The Sun.
Band Councilman Roland Whiteway said the evacuation was strenuous and stressful.
The Sun reached out to Berens River Chief Norman McKay for comment. At press time, he was unavailable. Whiteway said the chief was in Winnipeg and had left the morning before.
"I’m pretty much the contact here," he said.
There are 198 rooms booked at four hotels in Brandon, Whiteway said.
"It’s a mixture of elders, kids, the disabled and pregnant women."
Whiteway is staying in the community for now. According to him, the Department of Natural Resources told him the community is in no immediate danger, but it’s unpredictable if the wind changes.
"We were told by Natural Resources that hydro poles can burn along the road. So that’s where our focus is on. If those poles burn in any way, we will be out of power," Whiteway said.
This is the second time in approximately eight years Berens River First Nation community has been evacuated.
On the Berens River First Nation Facebook page, the warning is dire.
"Please do not take the risk of waiting last minute with your elderly and children. These aircraft will not be back if the smoke gets worse. Evacuate quick & safely."
Evacuations of Pauingassi First Nation and Little Grand Rapids First Nation was completed by July 19, according to a press release from the Canadian Red Cross. All flights were co-ordinated out of the two communities in Winnipeg, where people from both communities are staying in hotels in the city.
Bloodvein First Nation’s evacuation continued Tuesday. Members travelled in their vehicles from the community to Winnipeg, where they are staying in hotels.
Some people from Berens River First Nation are staying in Winnipeg hotels. However, all of Tuesday’s flights from that community were destined for Brandon.
In total, more than 1,300 people have been evacuated with more expected later Tuesday. There are currently no COVID-19 outbreaks in any of the four communities, the Canadian Red Cross spokesperson confirmed.
While four hotels in Brandon will be used as accommodations for evacuees from Berens River First Nation, "there has been no official request to support at this time," Tobin Praznik, the emergency manager for the City of Brandon, said in an email.
"We are aware of the evacuation as we are provided regular updates by the Canadian Red Cross on the operation."