Fires grow, threat the same

Prov­ince work­ing on plan to get evac­uees home, even if the fires are still burn­ing

Prince Albert Daily Herald - - FRONT PAGE - PETER LOZINSKI

Prov­ince work­ing on plan to get evac­uees home, even if the fires are still burn­ing

Wild weather con­tin­ues to cause prob­lems for crews tack­ling north­ern wild­fires, but though the fires have in­creased in size, there is no added risk to com­mu­ni­ties.

Provin­cial of­fi­cials pro­vided an up­date about the north­ern fires Fri­day. While it doesn’t look like the fires them­selves will be go­ing away any time soon, there are al­ready plans in the works to get evac­uees back home. If all goes well, they’ll be able to safely go home even if the fires are still burn­ing nearby.

“Our goal is to get peo­ple back into their homes as soon as we pos­si­bly can,” said di­rec­tor of emer­gency ser­vices Duane McKay. “Plan­ning for that is un­der­way, how­ever con­di­tions need to be very safe in or­der for us to do that. We’ve iden­ti­fied a few pri­or­i­ties that would fa­cil­i­tate repa­tri­a­tion of the evac­uees. One of them is to en­sure that health ser­vices are in place, com­mu­nity ser­vices are main­tained and Sask Power and Sask Tel com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems are not at risk. All that work is around crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture for any com­mu­nity to op­er­ate un­der nor­mal con­di­tions.”

Mean­while, about 30 more fire­fight­ers have been brought in to as­sist with bat­tling the flames. Those fire­fight­ers were re­cruited as a part of a Prince Al­bert Grand Coun­cil ini­tia­tive that seeks to cer­tify qual­i­fied in­di­vid­u­als who would be able to then join the rest of the crews up north.

Early Fri­day, MP Ge­orgina Joli­bois crit­i­cized the fire­fight­ing ef­fort for be­ing in­suf­fi­cient. She ar­gued sig­nif­i­cantly more re­sources are needed.

But ac­cord­ing to provin­cial of­fi­cials, fire­fight­ers are do­ing as much as they can, and they have as many as pos­si­ble work­ing on the blaze, with more avail­able if needed.

Steve Roberts, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of wild­fire man­age­ment, an­swered a sim­i­lar ques­tion from a re­porter ear­lier in the week.

“In the Pel­i­can Nar­rows area, be­cause it’s dry, be­cause of the volatile fu­els and the wind shifts, we’ve had very few ar­eas where we’ve been able to sta­bi­lize the fire where it’s safe enough to put peo­ple on the ground,” he said.

‘As we put an­chor points in and start to (at­tack the fire), you’ll see the man­power and re­sources go­ing up.”

The prov­ince will con­tinue to bring in heavy equipment, such as bull­doz­ers, as ar­eas be­come sta­ble enough to do so with­out putting peo­ple’s safety at risk.

Late Wed­nes­day evening and into Thurs­day that job got more com­pli­cated as the wind be­gan chang­ing di­rec­tions. Each di­rec­tion change im­pacts all three fires crews are bat­tling in the area.

“The prob­lem we have with the fires is be­cause there are three large fires clus­tered in the same area and they are large in size, each wind shift will see a dif­fer­ent re­sponse be­cause the threat will in­crease or de­crease on dif­fer­ent flanks of the fires,” Roberts said.

Our weather fore­cast­ers work with us di­rectly to pre­dict th­ese wind shifts, and then we ad­just our op­er­a­tional cri­te­ria to deal with th­ese shifts as they oc­cur.”

Those shift­ing winds have re­sulted in two of the fires grow­ing in size. The Pre­ston and Gran­ite fires have in­creased their foot­print, but no fur­ther as­sets are at risk.

No com­mu­nity struc­tures have caught fire. Three re­mote cab­ins out­side the com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing one owned by the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment, have been lost.

There are cur­rently over 320 peo­ple, 20 he­li­copters and 15 pieces of heavy equipment work­ing in the Pel­i­can Nar­rows area.

As the fires grow, they be­come more com­pli­cated. When asked how the fire sizes com­pare to pre­vi­ous years, Roberts said while they are con­sid­ered large for a fire south of the Churchill River, the is­sue isn’t size, it’s with the prox­im­ity of the three fires.

“The is­sue is wer have (three) fires burn­ing at the same time in a rel­a­tively small area of the prov­ince,” he said.

“(They’re) kind of work­ing against each other, and that’s what’s mak­ing this sit­u­a­tion more crit­i­cal than if th­ese three fire were sep­a­rate or in dif­fer­ent parts of the prov­ince.”


A view of one of the wild­fires on HIgh­way 106 near Creighton.

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