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Manitoba wildfire evacuees cleared to go home on Sunday, feeling ‘relief’

It’ll soon be time to go home for people displaced by a raging wildfire near Flin Flon, Man.

Friday afternoon, the Manitoba Wildfire Service announced evacuees from Cranberry Portage, the cottage subdivisions of Sourdough Bay, Whitefish Lake, Twin Lakes, and Schist Lake North, have been cleared to return to their homes as of 10 a.m. on Sunday.

“There are great big sprinklers that we rigged up on people’s homes to prevent them from burning down. So this gives the team a chance to go remove all those,” said Earl Simmons, director of Manitoba Wildfire Services. “(It) also allows for the various municipalities and local authorities to plan for re-entry as well.”

It’s been almost exactly a week since residents in affected areas were rushed out of their homes, and evacuees like Dolly Charlette from Cranberry Portage are more than ready to head back.

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“I was just tearing up because it’s felt like a month that I’ve been here, and yet it’s only been a week. But that’s just how it feels when you’re displaced and not knowing. (This) feels like a breath of relief,” she said.

During the evacuation of Cranberry, Charlette relocated to the Pas with her son, granddaughter and dog to stay with her sister.

Even though the blaze is still raging at 37,000 hectares, Simmons said he is confident residents are safe to go home.

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“I feel comfortable telling you this, along with the incident commander, that that we feel comfortable. This is out of an abundance of caution. We feel comfortable making that decision. And if there was any risk at all, we wouldn’t be making that call,” he said.

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Plus, there’s the bonus of an expected downpour in the area over the weekend.

“It’s so dry up there,” Simmons said. “The fire is burning down deep, it requires a lot of work by the firefighters. They’re digging down two or three feet into the ground to put out the fire.”

The land is so parched, he said, that even after the expected 40 millimeters of rain, “we’re still going to have significant drought codes that we don’t normally see this early in the year.”

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“We’re still not out of the woods in terms of fighting that fire,” Simmons said.

He noted more than 200 personnel from Manitoba are battling the flames, and at least 80 others from various provinces.

Charlette is grateful.

“They saved our town, they saved it,” she said through laughter and a beaming grin. “They made every effort they can to keep it safe enough for us to come home this early.”

While there are some expected difficulties heading back to her home, like broken fridges and the devastation surrounding her community, they pale against the joy of going home again.

“I really enjoyed being here, visiting my sister. But at the same time, I’m over joyous to go home now, because I’ve been sleeping on a sponge on the floor — just because her beds are too soft and I kind of like the firmness, so that’s why. I really miss my bed. Out of everything, I really miss my bed,” she said.

Not only is she grateful to be going back home, but she is grateful to be alive.

“I’ve never seen the sky look like that — all black,” Charlette said, reminiscing on the smoke hanging in the air of Cranberry when she left.

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“We are lucky. I’m so glad it didn’t happen in the middle of night when there was a lack of watchmen… I’m very grateful that they were on, and they were able to come and tell us during the day before we went to bed.”

The province’s guide on wildfire evacuation re-entry can be found online at www.gov.mb.ca/emo. Evacuees are also encouraged to review the wildfire evacuation checklist on the same page.

Click to play video: 'Wildfires prompt new evacuations across Western Canada'

Wildfires prompt new evacuations across Western Canada

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