Approximately 1,000 people from various Northern Manitoba First Nations are expected to hold up in Winnipeg's Convention Centre over the next couple weeks as wildfires wreak havoc in their communities.
Volunteers from the Canadian Red Cross and the Bear Clan Patrol were setting up cots and a dining area on Aug. 31, 2017, when the shelter opened.
Shawn Feely, vice president of the Canadian Red Cross for Manitoba and Nunavut says there is a total of approximately 3,200 evacuees from these communities. He says some will stay with friends and family and some will stay in hotel rooms, although those are at a premium. A number have been transported to Thompson as well, because of specific health needs.
The evacuees who will stay at the Convention Centre are coming from Wasagamack First Nation, St. Theresa Point First Nation and Garden Hill First Nation.
Feely says hotel rooms and family connections are good options for people, but it's important to have a large open space like the Convention Centre to help keep families in close proximity.
"Our main focus is getting people out safely, getting them here in Winnipeg and then getting them settled," Feely said. "We understand and can appreciate how scared people might be, how stressed they are waiting to be air lifted out."
"We'll assign cots when they get here and will make sure friends and families are together."
Feely says most of the evacuees got into the city either yesterday or early this morning and says the first priority is getting them fed and settled in with their personal hygiene kits. After that the Red Cross plans on setting up a recreational area for kids, a quiet space for parents with young children and an education area where kids can go to school next week. They will also be planning field trips to parks so people can get outside and are working on finding a place where the evacuees can shower.
Feely says the first goal in situations like this is to lessen the pressure the evacuees are feeling.
"They can see a glow of fire coming closer to their homes and they have to be transported from their community to another one with an airstrip in the dark and that's a stressful situation," Feely said. "Once they get there some planes land and others don't because of the smoke on the runway and they see planes flying overhead and that's stressful."
"They're thinking, 'what about us?'"
The province issued an update on the fires yesterday afternoon and says the 77,000 hectare fire is 800 metres away from the nearest residence in Wasagamack. Fire crews are working on the fire line and installing protection equipment on residences on those First Nations.
The province says Fire crews are also battling a 4,600 hectare blaze near Poplar River - which has displaced around 830 people - and a 2,000 hectare fire near the Fox Lake. They are employing sprinkler systems, water bombers and helicopters.
Kim McLean is the director of disaster management for the Canadian Red Cross Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
She says the first 24 hours is for basic needs and the Red Cross is working with evacuees to identify more specific needs that may come up.
"We know kids need those activities and to be out and about, we know people have doctor's appointments and all those kinds of things that need to happen," McLean said. "We'll be working with specific members to work out methods of transportation to make sure that stuff happens."
Despite the forecast calling for hot, dry and windy weather worsening the situation over the weekend, McLean is hopeful Mother Nature will pull through.
"Hopefully we can get some rain up there so we can get people back home safely."
The Red Cross says there is no timeline for when the evacuees might return home.