First Nation evacuees heading home now that wildfires have died down

After hanging out in Thompson for a week, 144 wildfire evacuees from Marcel Colomb First Nation (MCFN), located at Black Sturgeon Falls, were cleared to return home July 31. 

These northern residents were evacuated July 24 when an out-of-control blaze caused by lighting knocked out power to their community. Another of the several fires that started in the area that day destroyed the Lynn Lake Kiddie Camp northwest of northwest of Manitoba’s most northerly road-accessible town.

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The Canadian Red Cross was hosting these evacuees at Thompson’s Mystery Lake Motor Hotel until Tuesday, when water contamination tests came back negative and they got the green light for a return trip.

As of July 31, the government of Manitoba’s FireView map also indicated that the four forest fires that were classified as “out-of-control ”in the Lynn Lake area last week are either “being held” or “under control.”

Red Cross emergency management co-ordinator Jessie Horodecki told the Nickel Belt News that these residents were eager to return home, since this evacuation was double the length of their stay in Thompson in June 2018, when another dangerous forest fire in the Lynn Lake area threatened their safety. 

Black Sturgeon Falls Chief Priscilla Colomb said this year’s extended stay was particularly hard on the children, since they didn’t have a lot of opportunities to release their pent-up energy.

Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook invited the evacuees to a barbecue at McCreedy Campground July 29, which provided these northern residents with a much-needed distraction. 

“People want to go home now,” Colomb said on Monday. “But I’m glad that the mayor donated the park and the hot dogs and the salad and the pork and beans.”

During this cookout, Lynn Lake resident Todd Davis, who serves as a bus driver in Black Sturgeon Falls, lamented the fact that these kids won’t get another chance to visit the bible camp located on Burge Lake.

“A few years back I helped to build out there a little bit and bring supplies and stuff,” he said, referencing the fact that the campsite recently underwent some renovations. “The kids just came back from bible camp actually, like a week or so ago, so that was the last group until they rebuild.” 

As a lifelong northerner, Davis said he also couldn’t remember a time when residents of MCFN were forced to flee their homes like this two years in a row.

Even though this year’s evacuation went smoothly, Horodecki said the Red Cross just put the finishing touches on an emergency response plan for members of the First Nation to follow in the future.

“Now they have a binder [that tells them] when this happens, what to do, who to call, what your steps are,” she said. “We didn’t get to use that binder in this evacuation, because it happened so fast, but we did some edits to it and we’re fully good to go if it happens again next year.”

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