"I think with these early season fires, our publicly owned water bombers have shown their value. It’s a no-brainer. We have to keep them public.” — Michelle Gawronsky, MGEU President
Winnipeg (09 May 2018) — Dry conditions have left most of southern Manitoba under an extreme fire warning. That means provincial firefighters and water bombing crews are seeing a very busy start to an early wildfire season.
Fire suppression crews have spent over a week battling blazes in eastern Manitoba. Last week, the Regional Municipality of Piney declared a state of emergency, and over the weekend, a 20 hectare fire started just west of Falcon Lake alongside the Trans Canada Highway. To date, over 5,900 hectares have been burning in the region this spring.
Could have been much worse without on-the-ground fire crews
After visiting with provincial crews near the fire zone on May 4, Michelle Gawronsky, President of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union (MGEU/NUPGE), says that such an up-close view of the devastation gives you a sense of just how important the services these members provide really are.
“I have so much gratitude for the women and men who provide this life-saving service," said Gawronsky. "It’s a dangerous, tough job, but it’s so important. When you see an entire forest that’s burnt out or a home that’s been lost, you wonder how much worse could it have been if we didn’t have these folks on the ground and in the air fighting back the flames.”
Fires demand rapid response
Manitoba Sustainable Development says that in these conditions it’s easy for start a fire when it is this dry. The Falcon Lake fire, for instance, started when a red-hot spring that had been likely dragging on the road broke off from a trailer and came to rest in the ditch. The grass fire quickly spread into a 20-hectare fire.
Thankfully, Manitoba’s fire suppression crews were ready with a rapid response.
Water bombers need to stay publicy owned and publicly run
Gawronsky says that in times like these the Premier should be taking note of just how early our fire season is starting and how frequently the province’s water bombers have already been put into service.
“Right now our government is talking about privatizing our water bombers,” says Gawronsky. “We’re barely into May and those bombers have been very busy. What would happen if the government privatizes them? Would they be here in Manitoba ready to go? Or would they be sitting in B.C. or California? I think with these early season fires, our publicly owned water bombers have shown their value. It’s a no-brainer. We have to keep them public.”
All Manitobans must exercise extreme caution
With dry conditions and with temperatures on May 8 over 30 degrees for the first time this year, it doesn’t appear the suppression efforts will get a reprieve any time soon. This means all Manitobans must continue to exercise caution.
All burning permits in eastern Manitoba and areas in central Manitoba remain canceled. Travel restrictions remain in place for eastern Manitoba, including areas from the Wanipigow River and to the Ontario border south to the U.S. border.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE