Temporary generators installed at Pukatawagan

Power supply allows residents to return home while repairs to transmission line underway

A crane moving a large metal fuel tank off a train car and onto the ground nearby.

Fuel tanks for temporary generators being installed near rail lines.

This article was published in August 2022 and may be outdated.

WINNIPEG — After just over a month of planning, transportation, and installation work, Manitoba Hydro energized two large industrial generators to bring power back to the community of Pukatawagan. This will allow residents to return home while the utility works to replace 77 fire-damaged poles on the power line feeding the community.

“A lot of people worked really hard to make this happen,” said Cyril Patterson, Manitoba Hydro’s Director of Rural Operations. “There’s lots left to do out there, but we’re happy community members can go home while we finish the job.”

A long train with two large generators on flatbed cars, with many other cars behind it, traveling over a bridge.

The train to Pukatawagan, shown here going over a bridge with the two 1,500 kW generators on it, was 27 cars long.

Enlarge image: A long train with two large generators on flatbed cars, with many other cars behind it, traveling over a bridge.

The wildfire that threatened Pukatawagan (also known as Mathias Colomb Cree Nation), forced the evacuation of approximately 2,000 residents and damaged the power line feeding it, but left the rail line into the community intact. This allowed Manitoba Hydro to ship in two large generators to temporarily restore power. The two 1,500 kW generators, which are far too large to be flown in, are being continuously monitored and refuelled while crews work to repair Pukatawagan’s normal power supply. The two generators (a third one has since been added) are supplied and maintained by Aggreko.

“Being in our Treaty Six territory is the comfort of home…we feel settled,” said Lorna Bighetty, Mathias Colomb Cree Nation Chief.

A flatbed train car with a large 1,500 kilowatt generator on it.

One of the two 1,500 kW generators, now installed in Pukatawagan, sitting on a flatbed rail car.

Enlarge image: A flatbed train car with a large 1,500 kilowatt generator on it.

“Installing the generators means that essential services — such as health, water and sewer, service to our homes, access to the outside world through internet services and other media — are available again. We will rest at night and rise in the morning knowing that our families are safe.”

To complete repairs, crews will get to work setting poles in and around steep cliffs, marsh, and rock — a difficult task complicated by access issues. Many of the materials required to restore power, including poles, spools of power lines, insulators, guy wires, specialized vehicles, transformers, fuel, etc., arrived in the community on the same train as the generators. The train was 27 cars long.

“There are, literally, a lot of moving parts here,” Patterson said. “The generators came via rail from Alberta into The Pas, where we attached more cars to that train with additional materials and fuel. Once it all got to Pukatawagan, we installed environmental protection around the generator sites, then unloaded, fuelled, and installed the generators so people could come home. Now we’ll use helicopters to fly equipment and crews to the fire-damaged areas and fix those lines.”

Manitoba Hydro continues to provide regular updates to the leadership of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation as well as other agencies such as Indigenous Services Canada, Manitoba Wildfire Service, and the Canadian Red Cross. The generators will be in place until repairs to the power line are completed.

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