Fire con­di­tions ‘dire’

Sol­diers train­ing to fight Sask. blazes

Cape Breton Post - - CANADA -

Emer­gency of­fi­cials in Saskatchewan say a large wild­fire threat­en­ing one of the big­gest com­mu­ni­ties in the north was sta­ble Tues­day, but they feared a shift in wind could change the sit­u­a­tion.

The blaze, which had come within 1.5 kilo­me­tres of La Ronge, a town of 2,700 peo­ple, was one of hun­dreds burn­ing across Western Canada.

Six hun­dred sol­diers from Ed­mon­ton have joined the fire fight in Saskatchewan. Of those, 360 were to com­plete a con­densed day of train­ing be­fore go­ing to work on fire lines Wed­nes­day.

Another 500 troops from Shilo, Man., were ready to be called in if needed.

“They’re just get­ting this one day quick re­fresher course to make sure when they’re out and in the fire zone they are op­er­at­ing safely,” De­fence Min­is­ter Jason Ken­ney said.

“It’s not of­ten the Cana­dian Army is called upon by the prov­inces to as­sist with for­est fires but this is a big one for Saskatchewan. We’re happy to oblige.”

Steve Roberts with Saskatchewan Wild­fire Man­age­ment said once the mil­i­tary had re­ceived train­ing, it would be of­fered to other groups, such as First Na­tions that want to join the fire­fight­ing ef­fort.

He said other Saskatchewan res­i­dents with pre­vi­ous train­ing have also vol­un­teered and they will be added to the 600 fire­fight­ers who have been work­ing in the north for nearly two weeks.

Fires as well as thick smoke have forced an es­ti­mated 9,000 peo­ple from their homes in more than 50 com­mu­ni­ties. About a dozen homes, re­mote cab­ins and other struc­tures have been de­stroyed.

Nearly 4,000 square kilo­me­tres have burned in high-pri­or­ity fire zones — more than 10 times the an­nual av­er­age.

Duane McKay, com­mis­sioner of Emer­gency Man­age­ment, de­scribed fire con­di­tions in the province as “fairly dire,” although the big­gest of the 113 ac­tive fires had stopped grow­ing.

He said the boost in re­sources was bound to help.

A spe­cial Sky­crane he­li­copter, be­lieved to be the largest fire­fight­ing chop­per in North Amer­ica, had also ar­rived from Mon­tana to aid a fleet of wa­ter bombers and bull­doz­ers.

Spe­cial air qual­ity state­ments re­mained in ef­fect for much of Saskatchewan as well as north­ern Man­i­toba and Al­berta and south­ern Bri­tish Columbia.

In B.C., more than 1,000 peo­ple were tack­ling 184 wild­fires. A smoky haze over Van­cou­ver had im­proved slightly Tues­day but air qual­ity had de­te­ri­o­rated in the re­sort com­mu­nity of Whistler.

Peo­ple from 18 sea­sonal homes near Sechelt, north of Van­cou­ver, and oth­ers in cab­ins near Port Alberni on Van­cou­ver Is­land were evac­u­ated.

Some peo­ple liv­ing near Nel­son, in the south­east in­te­rior, were on evac­u­a­tion alert.

There was some good news in Al­berta, where 165 peo­ple forced to flee last week from the North Tall­cree First Na­tion were al­lowed to re­turn home.

A pre­cau­tion­ary evac­u­a­tion or­der for Me­an­der River, Alta., was also lifted.

CP PHOTO Fire crews bat­tle a wild­fire near La Ronge, Sask. While the fire has sta­bi­lized, of­fi­cials are wor­ried a shift in the wind could put the com­mu­nity in jeop­ardy.

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