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Wildfire smoke rises in a forest.

RCMP helps community as wildfire approaches

Summer wildfires threatened Black Sturgeon Falls in 2018 and 2019. Credit: RCMP


In 2018, the small community of Black Sturgeon Falls, Man., fled an approaching wildfire.

Lynn Lake RCMP, located about 35 kilometres away, assisted during the evacuation and credit their relationship with the community for helping it move smoothly.

Lightning started a number of fires in the dense bush near Black Sturgeon Falls, home to the Marcel Colomb First Nation, and about 1,000 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

What started as a small fire shifted gears when the wind picked up causing the flames to leap a natural fire barrier and threaten the community.

"It went from a non-threat to a threat in a very short period of time," says RCMP S/Sgt. Kyle McFadyen, who headed the Lynn Lake detachment in 2018.

The province recommended the community evacuate, but news travels more slowly to the remote reserve with limited internet and no cellphone service.

The right relationships

McFadyen drove to Black Sturgeon Falls, met a local band councillor, and explained the situation.

"Having a good rapport helped her trust what I was saying and she took it seriously," says McFadyen.

The band council agreed that evacuating was necessary. To spread the news, McFadyen went with the councillor while an RCMP constable paired up with a community Elder, going door to door warning about the fire.

"People took it seriously because of who we paired up with," he says.

"We're familiar with the residents and everyone was very co-operative," says, Cst. Catterina Rios, who works in Lynn Lake and helped during the evacuation.

About 100 people packed into cars, a school bus and police vehicles to make the 20-minute drive to Lynn Lake.

"We used our police vehicles to help evacuate the more vulnerable people, such as the elderly and people with disabilities," says McFadyen.

Lynn Lake couldn't handle the influx of people and the Red Cross stepped in to provide support and buses to Thompson, where residents could be temporarily housed more effectively.

McFadyen credits the good relationship with the community for helping the process move efficiently, taking a little more than an hour to ensure everyone was safe.

"If I was to go in there with a loudspeaker and say: 'Hey, you have to get out' it would only lend a small bit of credibility. But by forming partnerships with the right people, there was no resistance to the evacuation," he says.

On watch

While Black Sturgeon Falls was empty for weeks during the evacuation, RCMP officers maintained a security post at the reserve and fed the local dogs that stayed behind.

"Bringing in food and water for the dogs is just a little extra thing we do," says Rios. "The residents appreciate us keeping an eye and watching over the dogs and their homes."

When there's a fire, police work with provincial and municipal partners to keep residents safe. An efficient evacuation clears the way for firefighters to do their work.

"With the majority of residents evacuated in a timely manner, we're able to dedicate our efforts to preparing defences while providing assistance to other local and provincial agencies," says Lynn Lake Fire Department Chief James Lindsay.

Police also work with the fire department to establish checkpoints ensuring no one inadvertently, or purposely, drives toward a fire zone.

"We offer support to the RCMP if they require people to man checkpoints or restrict traffic access to areas where a wildland fire is, or is expected to, encroach on," says Lindsay.

Fire threatened Black Sturgeon Falls again in 2019, and again the RCMP helped with the evacuation process and watched over the community while its residents were safely in Thompson.

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