More evacuations as northern wildfires spread
Recreational community of Tyrrell Lake asked to evacuate as largest fire continues to grow
Another small recreational community has been evacuated as wildfires burning near Pelican Narrows continue to rage in Saskatchewan’s northeast.
Windy conditions flared up the east side of the largest fire burning in the area, the Granite Fire. Now measuring at about 110,000 hectares, the fire is burning an area more than 16.5 times larger than the City of Prince Albert. The two other fires in the area, the 47,000-hectare Preston Fire and the 6,000-hectare Wilkins Fire saw minimal growth from Monday to Tuesday.
That flare-up on the east side of the Granite Fire led officials to recommend an evacuation of the recreational community of Tyrrell Lake at about 3 p.m. Monday. The flare-up also closed Highway 106 for a period of time.
On Tuesday wildfire officials said the community only has about four permanent residents, the rest staying seasonally. Any residents who evacuated are staying with friends and family. Two people who fled to Creighton requested assistance from Emergency Social Services.
There is a SaskTel communication tower located in the small subdivision of Tyrrell Lake. According to wildfire management executive director Steve Roberts, bulldozer guards and sprinkler systems were already in place in the area, and none of the infrastructure was directly impacted by the fire.
The bulk of the province’s wildfire fighting efforts continue to be focused on those three fires burning in the Pelican Narrows area. The province is providing frequent technical briefings to community leaders who will have the ultimate say as to when people will return to their homes. At this point, there are no recommendations from the province as to when or how repatriation would take place.
“At this point we’re not making any recommendations,” said deputy fire commissioner Ray Unrau. “What we’re doing is identifying conditions. Conditions are still a little bit volatile. We saw what happened with Tyrrell Lake yesterday. We certainly are in communication with the community and we’re letting them know what we’re seeing and we’re working with them to meet their needs.
“When we’re all on the same page as far as next steps, we’ll definitely be ready to take those actions.”
In the meantime, residents of Pelican Narrows continue to take shelter in Prince Albert and Saskatoon.
Emergency Social Services (ESS) is looking after 2,797 people. Of those, 807 are in Saskatoon while about 1990 are in Prince Albert. A total of 816 are staying with friends and family in the Prince Albert area, 1,174 are in local hotels.
While the province would like to see more people head to Saskatoon, ESS coordinator Deanna Valentine understands that many evacuees have friends and family in the P.A. area.
“The numbers do continue to be somewhat fluid,” Valentine said.
“A lot of people have friends and family in the Prince Albert area and are going to stay with those people, which is entirely their choice. We would encourage people who have friends and family in Saskatoon or who would like to come to Saskatoon voluntarily that it is an option, although we are not compelling people to move.”
According to Valentine, it is typical for more people to head north as evacuation situations continue.
“Typically we start to see people move northwards,” she said.
“Historically it seems people have more friends and family in P.A. and area than they do further south. This is a typical shift. It’s not uncommon.”
While it may be awhile before convoys of Pelican Narrows residents do return home, the province is preparing to escort convoys of a different kind. The Ministry of Highways has decided to allow escorted convoys along Highway 106 from the junction of Highway 135 to Creighton. That particular stretch of highway has been closed for about two weeks. Convoys will run between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m., and again from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily as conditions allow.
“Anyone interested in traveling in that direction can head to the barricade and the junction of Highway 135 during those times,” said executive director of communications Doug Wakabayashi.
“Because the departure is dependent on fire and visibility conditions, there could be some significant wit times.”
Those convoys are open to anyone who wants to travel along Highway 106. But Highway 135 remains closed to general traffic.
“The convoys running on Highway 135 are strictly to facilitate resupply of Sandy Bay,” Wakabayashi explained.
A large plume of smoke rises over a northern community in this recent Ministry of Environment photo.
An active wildfire as seen from the junction of Highways 106 and 135.