Residents return to Red Lake

Ken Kellar

Residents of Red Lake are heading home following a week of uncertainty after a forest fire forced the municipality to evacuate the area.
The fire, designated Red049 by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) broke out last Monday and eventually grew to roughly 750 hectares in size before ground and air crews were able to successfully contain it. As of Sunday evening, the MNRF listed Red049 as active but under control at a size of 552 hectares.
On the Municipality of Red Lake Facebook page, where town officials have been providing updates, Red Lake Mayor Fred Mota acknowledged the difficulties the town and people of Red Lake have faced over the past week and thanked those involved in fighting the fire for their work.
“Since the early evening of Monday, August 10, our community has been in state of extreme uncertainty,” Mota wrote.
“It has been challenging and at times very stressful for all of us. Through our resiliency as a community and with the gracious assistance of our neighbouring communities, we have overcome and endured something that could have been much worse. I personally am thankful our homes, families, and pets are all safe!”
“Words cannot describe how thankful I am for the tireless efforts and unwavering commitment of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), our local Volunteer Fire Fighters, our Municipal Council and staff, and all other individuals, businesses and organizations who unselfishly contributed to keeping our community safe,” he continued.
According to the MNRF update from August 14 posted to the Municipality of Red Lake Facebook page, at that time the Ministry had 20 ground crews working on suppressing the fire along with8 helicopters. Earlier in the week there were also a number of water bombers committed to helping combat the fire as well.
The MNRF has also lifted the Implementation Order it had enacted on Friday requiring the evacuation of Red Lake and the surrounding communities. Those returning to town are encouraged to check the municipality’s Facebook page for further updates and temporary changes to municipal operations due to the impacts of the fire.
The communities of Madsen and Starrett Olsen are being warned that they will be without Bell fibre optic service at this time, which can impact their ability to call emergency services, therefore the municipality is asking those residents “who do not own and/or have access to a cellular device to call 2-1-1 and provide notification of such.
While the fire is no longer considered a danger to the town, MNRF crews continue to work on suppression, and as such the municipality discourages individuals from visiting the fire site as it can interfere with suppression work.
Those returning to town are also asked to be patient and safe with their drive, as the highway may become congested at times. The OPP will have an increased presence on the highway to ensure the safety of travelling motorists.
“These have been very difficult times for all of us,” Mota said in a separate post about motorists returning to town.
“I cannot express enough how important it is for our residents to take their time, abide by the Provincial mandated speed limits, and travel with caution as you make your way back to your homes.”