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Evacuation continues


The evacuation of the municipality of Red Lake is ongoing as a nearby forest fire continues to burn.

In a message to Facebook this morning, Red Lake Mayor Fred Mota stressed that even as firefighters continue their work to battle the blaze, residents need to be on the move.

“I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for our community to evacuate,” Mota wrote.

“We are experiencing heavy smoke conditions today and we understand this will continue throughout the day as the fire is in very close proximity to Red Lake.”

In an update from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry on Tuesday, the fire was listed at 676.5 hectares, having actively grown throughout the previous night, and winds continued to be an issue. As of this morning however, the fire had grown to 750 hectares. The Ministry said that 15 fire crews were committed to suppressing the fire, with four more crews committed to value protection. The Ministry also said that 10 helicopters were being used to support those crews and bucket the fire's edge, and that four water bombers have been working continuously on the fires during the day.

The Red Lake Margaret Cochenour Memorial Hospital also posted to Facebook advising residents to evacuate and addressing fears some of the public may have about doing so in the face of the current pandemic.

“There is some concern that residents may be hesitant to evacuate, because of fears related to COVID-19,” the hospital posted.

“Please be advised that designated evacuation centers are required to take all necessary precautions, in this regard. You, as an evacuee, can protect yourself by continuing to wear a mask in public areas, practicing diligent hand hygiene, and making efforts to physically distance.”

Mota noted in his post that the town has a plane on standby today to remove residents form the town, but that has limited availability.

“Please proceed to the airport - but for those who require assistance with evacuating in any way please call 807-727-7106.” Mota wrote.

“Beyond this afternoon, we are unable to confirm air transportation for those other than essential workers.”

As of 10:00 a.m. this morning, public comments on the municipality's Facebook page shared that a southbound lane on Highway 105 was still open to evacuees who were able to drive, though a report from the CBC yesterday quoted Mota expressing concern the fire would close down the community's “main hydro and main corridor” by noon. As of time of writing, Ontario's traveller information website lists Highway 105 as open and Highway 618 as closed in both directions south of Red Lake due to the fire.

Evacuees from Red Lake are being encouraged to travel to Thunder Bay, Dryden, Kenora, Ignace and Sioux Lookout, and the municipality has thanked Ear Falls for their assistance during the evacuation. Additionally, a number of northwestern Ontario area camps and resorts, many operating well below seasonal capacity due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions, have opened their doors and offered cabins to those fleeing the fire.

Residents are urged to register with the municipality by emailing and/or calling 807-727-7106.

The MNRF said an Incident Management Team will be in place by midday today.

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