North­ern res­i­dents re­turn as fires rage nearby

Prince Albert Daily Herald - - COMING UP - PETER LOZIN­SKI

Peter Bal­lan­tyne Cree Na­tion chief Peter Beatty has lifted the gen­eral evac­u­a­tion or­der for Pel­i­can Nar­rows fol­low­ing rec­om­men­da­tions of the prov­ince and its min­istries.

The or­der has been lifted for gen­eral com­mu­nity mem­bers and pri­or­ity 3 res­i­dents. The evac­u­a­tion or­der re­mains in place for pri­or­ity 1 and 2 per­sons due to con­cerns about smoke.

Ac­cord­ing to pro­vin­cial emer­gency man­age­ment of­fi­cials, all of the re­quire­ments set out by the com­mu­nity as to when it would be safe re­turn have been met. That in­cludes a lack of di­rect fire threat to ac­cess roads, lack of di­rect fire threat to the com­mu­nity and vi­tal in­fra­struc­ture, air qual­ity within ac­cept­able lim­its and com­mu­nity ser­vices in place. All those con­di­tions have been met. While there has been no sig­nif­i­cant rain in the area, work to con­tain the fire was suc­cess­ful, sta­bi­liz­ing the sit­u­a­tion near the com­mu­nity and crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture. More favourable weather also helped, as cooler tem­per­a­tures and lighter winds have given fire­fight­ers a bit of a reprieve.

Pri­or­ity one and two peo­ple in­clude preg­nant or new moms, as well as those with chronic heart and lung con­di­tions. The band has also de­cided to keep fam­i­lies with chil­dren un­der the age of 2 evac­u­ated. While of­fi­cials don’t have an ex­act num­ber of peo­ple in that cat­e­gory, they do an­tic­i­pate at least half of the evac­uees will be able to re­turn home.

Whether it’s safe for those peo­ple to re­turn will be based on the air qual­ity. Ac­cord­ing to a spokesper­son from the Min­istry of Health, air qual­ity in­side the fresh air shel­ter in Pel­i­can Nar­rows, where an air scrub­ber is in place, is about 12.7 ppm. Nearby health clin­ics are at 30 ppm, while out­side it’s about 65.

“Those are rea­son­able,” the spokesper­son said. “When you get to the range of 100-150, it af­fects those with res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems.”

While the air qual­ity is fine right now, shift­ing winds still bring the po­ten­tial of heav­ier smoke blow­ing in. That heav­ier smoke is what causes is­sues for those with health needs.

The cooler weather could also kick up ex­tra smoke.

“While this is good for fire­fight­ing, it will cause a bit of an in­ver­sion, so we ex­pect smoke will be dense in that area,” said Duane McKay, di­rec­tor of emer­gency man­age­ment. “We have es­tab­lished air pu­rifi­ca­tion sys­tems in Sandy Bay, Pel­i­can Nar­rows and Descham­bault Lake, so there will be some places for respite for in­di­vid­u­als go­ing back if they need to get out of that while we ex­pe­ri­ence heavy smoke con­di­tions.”

The Wilkins fire, which is burning about 14 km south of Pel­i­can Nar­rows, has been con­tained. The south­east cor­ner of the Pre­ston fire, about 3 km north of Pel­i­can Nar­rows, has also been se­cured. The Gran­ite fire is still and threat­en­ing High­way 106, along with the small com­mu­ni­ties of Jan Lake, Birch Portage and Tyrrell Lake.

“There are some heavy fuel ac­cu­mu­la­tions there that are smok­ing re­ally heavy, and a lot of fire in and around those lo­ca­tions,” ex­plained Scott Wa­sy­lenchuk, di­rec­tor of wild­fire op­er­a­tions.

“We’re try­ing to se­cure that so when the weather changes it can’t move back into that com­mu­nity. There’s still a di­rect threat, and we’ve got a lot of peo­ple and equip­ment in there right now. We’re try­ing to tie that all off be­fore we give the all clear.”

Some of those peo­ple and pieces of equip­ment have been re­lo­cated from other ar­eas. Con­tain­ment lines have been com­pleted around the Wilkins fire, and sig­nif­i­cant work has been done to con­tain the Pre­ston fire as well.

While wild­fire man­age­ment fo­cuses on con­trol­ling the Pre­ston and Gran­ite fires, gov­ern­ment re­la­tions and Emer­gency So­cial Ser­vices (ESS) is fo­cus­ing on help­ing peo­ple get home. The first night the evac­u­a­tion or­der was lifted, about 39 per­sonal ve­hi­cles re­turned to Pel­i­can Nar­rows, and about 13 to Sandy Bay. Thurs­day plans were in place to run busses all day to get as many peo­ple home as pos­si­ble. Evac­uees were given a bagged lunch and some wa­ter be­fore de­part­ing re­cep­tion cen­tres.

While peo­ple are be­ing al­lowed to re­turn to Pel­i­can Nar­rows, the high­way, from the junc­tion of High­ways 135 and 106, is still blocked and re­stricted. Con­voys of up to 60 ve­hi­cles at a time are be­ing es­corted to help peo­ple get home. There are no spe­cific times for those es­corts. They will leave as ve­hi­cles pile up. The RCMP, min­istry of high­ways and wild­fire man­age­ment are co­or­di­nat­ing the es­corts to en­sure safety, as there is still fire and smoke in the area.

ESS is also con­tin­u­ing to of­fer sup­port to res­i­dents evac­u­ated from Jan Lake, Birch Portage and Tyrrell Lake, as well as med­i­cal pri­or­ity res­i­dents of Pel­i­can Nar­rows.

Pel­i­can Nar­rows schools will re-open Mon­day.

Any evac­uees who left the fam­ily pet be­hind when they fled wild­fires have noth­ing to worry about, pro­vin­cial of­fi­cials said.

A team of vol­un­teers went around to homes daily to pro­vide food and wa­ter to pets.

Food sup­plies were shipped to the com­mu­nity daily. Ac­cord­ing to McKay, over 400 pounds of dog food has been sent to Pel­i­can Nar­rows this week alone.

Pets looked af­ter while res­i­dents gone

PHOTO COUR­TESY GOV­ERN­MENT OF SASKATCHEWAN/FACE­BOOK

A fire burns near Pel­i­can Nar­rows.

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