Fires force 9,000 from homes

Sol­diers ar­rive to help fight North­ern Saskatchewan wild­fires

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA -

Sol­diers started rolling into Saskatchewan on Mon­day to dou­ble fire­fight­ing ef­forts in the north, where about 9,000 peo­ple have been forced out of their homes — many for more than a week.

Colin King, with Saskatchewan’s Emer­gency Man­age­ment depart­ment, said 1,000 mil­i­tary per­son­nel were ar­riv­ing from bases in Shilo, Man., and Ed­mon­ton.

About 600 are to re­ceive ba­sic wild­fire train­ing and will likely be on the ground Wed­nes­day along­side another 600 fire­fight­ers.

The re­main­ing sol­diers are to work in sup­port roles such as help­ing with equip­ment and get­ting food and wa­ter to fire crews.

King de­scribed the fire sit­u­a­tion as “crit­i­cal” and said peo­ple evac­u­ated from more than 50 com­mu­ni­ties wouldn’t be re­turn­ing soon.

“The threat has not been re­duced in any of those com­mu­ni­ties. We are ad­vis­ing all com­mu­nity lead­er­ship to re­main out un­til it is safe,” he said.

As of Mon­day morn­ing, the most sig­nif­i­cant of 112 fires burn­ing in the province was about three kilo­me­tres north of La Ronge, one of the largest com­mu­ni­ties in north.

Res­i­dents were evac­u­ated on the week­end from the town, as well as neigh­bour­ing Air Ronge and the Lac La Ronge In­dian Band.

Fires and thick smoke forced oth­ers in the north to start leav­ing their homes 11 days ear­lier.

Flames have de­stroyed about a dozen homes, re­mote cab­ins and other build­ings in Mon­treal Lake, Weyak­win and Wadin Bay. One build­ing also burned north of La Ronge.

About 300 square kilo­me­tres are burn­ing in what of­fi­cials are call­ing high-pri­or­ity fire zones, about 10 times the yearly av­er­age.

Scott Wa­sy­lenchuk with the Pro­vin­cial Fire Cen­tre had some good news, how­ever. An area near La Ronge burned in an old for­est fire is act­ing as a nat­u­ral bar­rier and wind was ex­pected to shift flames away from the town.

“Which means some of the fire lines clos­est to the com­mu­nity won’t be as hot and we’ll be able to get on them and make good progress,” he said.

Premier Brad Wall, who vis­ited La Ronge last week, said he’s glad sol­diers are on hand to help and he’s not wor­ried fire will spread into the town.

“Right now we’re in a pretty good spot ... We’re feel­ing cau­tiously op­ti­mistic af­ter a dif­fi­cult week­end.”

Nearly 700 evac­uees from La Ronge were be­ing housed in Cold Lake, Alta.

The Al­berta gov­ern­ment had said it was pre­par­ing to re­ceive up to 5,000 af­ter cen­tres in Saska­toon, Regina, Prince Al­bert and North Bat­tle­ford were fill­ing up.

“We al­ways have prob­lems with fires here and there but never in my life­time can I re­mem­ber it be­ing this bad,” Dar­lene Studer told ra­dio sta­tion CJME, af­ter con­vinc­ing her 90-year-old fa­ther to leave his home in La Ronge.

Karri Kempf with Saskatchewan’s So­cial Ser­vices Min­istry said slightly more than 7,000 have reg­is­tered as evac­uees and she es­ti­mates another 2,000 oth­ers are stay­ing with friends and fam­ily.

Fires are also burn­ing in other Western prov­inces.

In Al­berta, 200 peo­ple re­main out of their homes on the North Tall­cree First Na­tion.

En­vi­ron­ment Canada is­sued spe­cial air qual­ity state­ments for much of Saskatchewan and parts of Man­i­toba, Al­berta and Bri­tish Columbia.

CP PHOTO

A fire crew bat­tles a blaze in the La Ronge area of north­ern Saskatchewan.

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