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Keeping a close watch on the fire near Little Grand Rapids and Paungassi

Over the last week I have made several statements in the Manitoba Legislature on the fire near Little Grand Rapids and Paungassi.   It has been a very difficult time for people in these two communities.   In Little Grand Rapids the situation became desperate with so much smoke that visibility was drastically reduced and planes could not land.  

Wednesday May 23:
Mr. Gerrard: I thank the minister for his report. I  want to thank all the emergency personnel and people who are working all over the province to try and address this situation.
      I also want to reach out to those who are affected in communities and wish that these major problems which we're facing can be addressed satisfactorily without loss of life.
      I also hear from the MLA in Kewatinook, who has talked very recently to people in Little Grand Rapids, that there have already been three homes destroyed in that community. There is, with a map of the fire at Little Grand Rapids, it is extraordinarily close to the community.
      The community is in potentially very desperate situation because there is very heavy smoke, and my understanding of the latest information is that the planes weren't able to get in and out and things are looking very desperate for people there.
      I hope the minister can give us more of an update on the evacuation status. I think it has started there but it is halted at the moment, maybe.
      Pauingassi is clearly important and we don't want to wait for the last minute as maybe has happened in Little Grand Rapids. It is good that people were evacuated safely from Sapotaweyak, that the situation in Kinonjeoshtegon and Jackhead appears to be improving.
      The concerns still clearly continue in Pelican Rapids, in Grahamdale, in Mulvihill, and it's good to hear that there may be some improvement just around Ashern. 
      It is a very difficult situation, I think, from everything we know, and it needs full attention from everyone in this Legislature as we hope for good results and know that there is need for urgent action.
      Thank you.

Thursday May 24:
Mr. Gerrard: I want to thank the minister for his update on the fire situation. I also want to thank the Canadian Armed Forces for their incredible efforts to evacuate people from Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi. I hear from the MLA for Kewatinook, who's keeping in very close touch with people on the ground, that it's hoped that everyone will be evacuated from the two communities by the end of the day. I hope this will be the case, and I want to thank all those who have been part of this really important effort.
      I would ask the minister if the updates to the fire map could be made twice a day instead of just daily, particularly when it's close to communities. I think this is important to have that information in the morning and in the evening in terms of where we are. I was disturbed, for example, this morning to find early on that the latest map was from Tuesday, and I think that we can do better in terms of making sure that everyone is ready and prepared. I know that the map has now been updated to the situation from yesterday, but when we're faced with a quickly moving fire, I suggest that updating the map twice a day would be very useful.
      The images that we have seen of families and children and elders wearing masks to protect themselves from breathing in toxins from the smoke are vivid, and they emphasize the need to have fire plans which result in the evacuation of people before conditions deteriorate to the extent that they have done at Little Grand Rapids.
      I want, in this context, to thank the minister for his offer yesterday to provide the fire plans for the affected communities. I look forward to receiving copies of these fire plans as soon as possible and I thank the minister for his efforts in this respect.
      It will–when the acute crisis is over and, as is normal–be important to review plans so that we're ready for future situations and to make sure everything is updated and in the best possible planning environment.
      I thank everyone for their concern about what's happening and hope that we have no lives lost and that these fires can be effectively kept under control.
      Thank you.

Monday May 28:

Mr. Gerrard: I thank the Minister for his update and I thank all emergency personnel and volunteers for their efforts, and as well a special thank you to the University of Winnipeg.  I note that on the FireMap today, the fire near Paungassi and Little Grand Rapids is still listed as "out of control" in his recent news release, but is listed as "in control" on his department's fire map.  Hopefully one of these notices will be corrected so there is at least consistency in what is being communicated.

I would also recommend that for large fires like this one, that the province use an approach which was used in 2015 in Saskatchewan in which hot spots are shown clearly so it is possible to get some idea as to how much of the area covered by the fire is still active.

I would also recommend that there be considered an accelerated or advanced evacuation for individuals with respiratory and other conditions where they are at increased health risk when heavy smoke is present.

I am also hoping for information on when the power will be restored in Little Grand Rapids as this will be important as a critical step forward enabling people to go home.

I would add that there is a lot of concern over the safety of residents who are evacuated.  I highlight this because it needs to be an ongoing concern which is monitored closely.  I had hoped the Minister might provide more details of the measures which have been put in place to ensure the safety of evacuees.

I also note that the Minister promised me last week he would provide the fire plans for the communities affected by this fire.   I have written a follow up letter to the Minister and hope he can provide me the fire plans as soon as possible.

I also note the present of a small fire near Shamattawa.  I had hoped the Minister might signal what effort is being made there to prevent it becoming a big fire which might threaten Shamattawa.


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