Residents of Cranberry Portage are relaying the harrowing ordeal they went through over the weekend as a wildfire quickly approached the community, giving them just minutes to pack up and leave.

Anita Wiens, a co-owner of Viking Lodge in Cranberry Portage and former resident of Steinbach, says that on Saturday at 8 p.m., the entire community was notified that they had two hours to evacuate. As Wiens and others began to pack and try to make plans the RCMP came through the town again, just 20 minutes after the first notification, saying they now had just 10 minutes to evacuate.  

“The fire was coming straight for us. The winds were gusting up to 45 km/h and it was totally out of control, heading straight for the town,” she says. “You're almost in a shock mode. I took a suitcase and threw all my photograph albums in there, grabbed pictures off the walls and into the truck, and off we went.”  

Anita and her husband Paul were able to evacuate into an Airbnb in Rocky Lake, just South of Cranberry Portage. The northern community is approximately 580 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, in between The Pas and Flin Flon.

"We thank the Lord there was something available, and that is where we are right now sitting here just monitoring what is happening.”

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Residents were loaded onto buses and headed out to Flin Flon and The Pas.  

"Everything in The Pas is full, all the hotels, the Airbnb’s, everything in Flin Flon as well.”  

Anita says crews managed to put sprinklers up on every homestead on the edges of the municipality during Saturday night and early Sunday morning.  

“We have to be so thankful for the firefighters and the crews that all came out, some from Saskatchewan, some from Ontario, Winnipeg, Brandon.”  

Paul Wiens and his brother Matthew were asked to come back to town to help with the sprinklers. They report back that currently there are no homes in danger at this point.  The two men are now on standby to help with anything that they can in the town.

Some prayers for better weather answered

“We were praying last night for the winds to calm down and for it to change direction, and this morning it is basically calm and the wind has turned direction away from the town. It is blowing East now instead of North.”  

She is very thankful for everyone who has been reaching out to offer their support.  

“I just want to thank so many people from Steinbach just reaching out and praying and for protection, that part has been overwhelming how everybody just pulls together.” 

Anita says the fire had come within just under a kilometre of the town.  

“It was scary, it was very overwhelming, and we have to thank the firefighters, the RCMP, who were making sure that absolutely everybody got out, putting them on buses.”  

She says the smoke was unbelievable throughout the day on Saturday, and they couldn’t see much.  

“Our premises overlook the lake, the water looked like it was bright orange from the embers and stuff. It looked like the whole lake had changed colour,” she says. “It was like a nightmare, and it was something so not real. The flames were shooting up, all of a sudden there was another ball in the air of just bright red flames. It was almost like there was just somebody pouring gas, that's how the fire was moving.”  

With files from Corny Rempel