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‘A devastating impact’: Millions in funding to equip Manitoba for wildfire seasons to come

Tens of millions of dollars will flow to Manitoba through a federal partnership to better equip the province for wildfire seasons to come, as an out-of-control blaze rages in the north.

Canada’s Minister of Emergency Preparedness Harjit Sajjan was at the Manitoba legislature Thursday to announce $19.2 million in federal dollars, with the provincial government matching that figure for a total of $38.4 million in funding.

The money will come over four years under a federal fund that helps provinces and territories purchase wildland firefighting equipment.

“This cost-share program has been critical for our counterparts to procure essential resources such as vehicles, mobile units, avionics upgrades, hoses, pumps, and communications equipment,” Sajjan said.

Canada’s Minister of Emergency Preparedness Harjit Sajjan is pictured at a May 16, 2024 news conference at the Manitoba legislature. (Scott Andersson/CTV News Winnipeg)

The money comes after an early start to the province’s wildfire season last week, when flames broke out near Cranberry Portage, displacing more than 675 people from their homes.

According to the province, the fire has grown to 37,000 hectares as of Thursday.

It is one of 111 wildfires burning in Canada, with 26 considered out of control.

Sajjan says last year’s wildfire season, which was the most catastrophic in the country’s history, showed what the future could look like if Canada fails to address the “existential threat” of climate change.

“It is having a devastating impact, and this year we are already seeing the rapid spread and escalation of wildfires spanning from Fort Nelson, B.C. to Flin Flon, Manitoba,” he said.

Work ongoing to repair rail line damaged by fire

Manitoba’s Minister of Economic Development, Investment, Trade and Natural Resources Jamie Moses says a team from the province is on the ground helping to support firefighting efforts and evacuees forced to flee their homes.

“This is an early kick-off to our 2024 wildfire season, earlier than anticipated,” he said.

Drought conditions and high winds have made it tough to battle the flames, officials say, noting the fire remains within 1.5 kilometres from Cranberry Portage.

Manitoba Minister of Economic Development, Investment, Trade and Natural Resources Jamie Moses speaks at a May 16, 2024 news conference at the Manitoba legislature. (CTV News Winnipeg)

The fire crossed a section of railway in the area, shutting down rail travel between Cranberry Portage and Pukatawagan to the north. The line is used to transport essential items to the area.

Moses says his office has been in communication with local government about the line.

“I understand that there have been recent supplies sent up to the community, and we are also in contact with the group that’s doing the work to repair the line, and that repair is ongoing right now.”

When asked about concerns evacuees paid out-of-pocket for food and lodging, a provincial spokesperson said those people will be reimbursed.

“Cheques are already being distributed to people in hotels who paid out of pocket, and folks who are more vulnerable had additional immediate supports provided,” they said.

“Hotels are being provided with funds directly now, so nobody is having to pay upfront and per diems for food are being provided. We will continue to offer supports as the situation progresses.”

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