WAIT­ING FOR THE SMOKE TO CLEAR

Pel­i­can Nar­rows, Birch Portage res­i­dents bused to Saska­toon, P.A. shel­ters, ho­tels

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - BETTY ANN ADAM With files from Jonathan Charl­ton badam@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/ SPBAA­dam

Wild­fire evac­uees from Pel­i­can Nar­rows shel­tered at the Henk Ruys Soc­cer Cen­tre could soon be joined by many more as a state of emer­gency is de­clared in the north­east.

A state of emer­gency has been de­clared for Pel­i­can Nar­rows and nearby Birch Portage in north­east­ern Saskatchewan, as dry, windy con­di­tions have closed high­ways 106 and 135, prompt­ing Peter Bal­lan­tyne Cree Na­tion lead­ers to urge all res­i­dents to leave.

Con­voys of pri­vate ve­hi­cles and buses car­ried 690 evac­uees to Saska­toon on Tuesday night and more are ex­pected to be led out by pro­vin­cial high­ways pilot ve­hi­cles when cooler evening and early morn­ing con­di­tions al­low, re­porters were told in a tele­phone brief­ing Wed­nes­day.

Among the Pel­i­can Nar­rows evac­uees who awoke in Saska­toon on Wed­nes­day were 493 at the Henk Ruys Soc­cer Cen­tre, in­clud­ing Mardell Custer.

“It was pretty scary with the fire and the smoke close by, and po­lice go­ing around, sirens,” Custer said.

She ar­rived at 4 a.m. Wed­nes­day with her three chil­dren and two grand­chil­dren, leav­ing be­hind grey­ish brown smoke and float­ing ash.

“Yes­ter­day I wasn’t that wor­ried be­cause I didn’t know it was that se­ri­ous un­til in the evening, when (the evac­u­a­tion) be­came manda­tory. We packed up, went to the school, got in the bus and came here,” she said.

She’s wor­ried about the town and her two sons who stayed be­hind.

“I’m just won­der­ing if they’re OK, and how is the fire do­ing now, and when we’ll go home.”

Lo­cal of­fi­cials have gone door to door in Pel­i­can Nar­rows, urg­ing ev­ery­one to leave now in case the roads be­come im­pass­able, but an un­known num­ber of peo­ple have re­fused, sign­ing waivers to ac­knowl­edge they’ve been warned, said Prince Al­bert Grand Council Vice-Chief Harold Lin­klater.

Among those stay­ing is Lin­klater’s brother, who is in his late 60s and is will­ing to leave by boat if nec­es­sary.

Lin­klater said he is “very wor­ried” about his brother and the po­ten­tial ef­fects of the heavy smoke.

Two band coun­cil­lors, Wel­don McCal­lum and Myr­tle Bal­lan­tyne, have also stayed be­hind to main­tain a lead­er­ship pres­ence, Lin­klater said.

He hopes the peo­ple of Prince Al­bert and Saska­toon will “have an open-arms ap­proach to our evac­uees and give them com­fort,” he added.

Some evac­uees stayed in ho­tels, in­clud­ing 197 in Saska­toon and 16 in Prince Al­bert.

The emer­gency has arisen later in the fire sea­son than usual. Early sum­mer plans to use school gyms as con­gre­gate shel­ters have been shelved be­cause classes are set to be­gin at the schools and no other fa­cil­i­ties have been ar­ranged, said emer­gency so­cial ser­vices co­or­di­na­tor Deanna Valen­tine.

The depart­ment is con­fi­dent there are enough ho­tel rooms in Prince Al­bert and Saska­toon to shel­ter the 600 or so more res­i­dents that could ar­rive overnight.

Dwayne McKay, com­mis­sioner of emer­gency man­age­ment and fire safety for the province, said Wed­nes­day morn­ing that an es­ti­mated 3,000 peo­ple re­mained in the stricken com­mu­ni­ties.

An un­known num­ber are ex­pected to stay with fam­ily and friends and those in Saska­toon are urged to reg­is­ter at the soc­cer cen­tre, while those in Prince Al­bert should check in at the Chief Joseph Custer urban re­serve, where food vouch­ers and ac­cess to other sup­ports are avail­able.

It was pretty scary with the fire and the smoke close by, and po­lice go­ing around, sirens.

MICHELLE BERG

MICHELLE BERG

Pel­i­can Nar­rows evac­uee Tr­isha Se­wap pushes her lit­tle sis­ter An­nie Se­wap into the emer­gency evac­u­a­tion shel­ter at Henk Ruys Soc­cer Cen­tre on Wed­nes­day.

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