Families flee fires for shelter in city
Team ready to provide food, beds to hundreds from Pelican Narrows
The smoke from four fires surrounding Pelican Lake was so thick on Tuesday morning that it burned Mary Jane Michel’s nose and throat and she couldn’t see the trees on the other side of the lake.
The previous day’s sense of calm evaporated with the deteriorating air quality when people in the community of almost 2,000 received word that the elderly, young and frail and their families would be bused to Saskatoon.
Michel, her elderly father, her daughter and two small grandchildren were safe on one of the buses when she wrote in Facebook messages to a StarPhoenix reporter that her stress was still high as she thought of other family members still at home.
She was among the 450 to 500 people from the northeast Saskatchewan community who were bound for Saskatoon’s Henk Ruys Soccer Centre, where crews worked Tuesday to set up cots and food service for them.
On Tuesday night, Pelican Narrows chief and council extended the evacuation order to include those with any medical condition as the smoke worsened.
A Saskatoon emergency response team received warning Monday night that a fire, dubbed the Granite, could block the road into the community located about 525 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon and that its billowing clouds of smoke could endanger vulnerable people, said Deanna Valentine, provincial co-ordinator for Emergency Social Services (ESS).
Social Services, the health ministry, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and City of Saskatoon received confirmation in the morning and swung into action. The Red Cross, experts in disaster management, will provide the direct services at the shelter, along with provincial staff at the site, Valentine said.
Evacuees will be housed in three soccer pitches equipped with green canvas cots set up in lines. Food service equipment is set up in the fourth soccer pitch. The soccer centre can hold 600 people. Another 200 could stay at the Cosmo Civic Centre.
People with heath issues will stay in hotels.
ESS is also supporting 12 residents of Birch Portage at a hotel in Prince Albert.
According to the Ministry of Environment, 38 wildfires are burning in Saskatchewan, including two — the Granite and the Wilkins — that are not yet contained.
The Granite, which began four weeks ago, is about 18 kilometres southeast of Pelican Narrows and covers more than 43,835 hectares. It has destroyed one remote property. About 75 people are involved in fighting it, using four dozers and 10 helicopters.
Another 64 people are working to control the 6,100 hectare Wilkins fire, which is about 16 kms south of the community; 22 are fighting the Preston blaze to the north and an unspecified number are working the Flo fire southeast of the town.