Evac­uees from Saskatchewan re­serve go home

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA - THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Res­i­dents of an evac­u­ated re­serve in north­ern Saskatchewan were head­ing home Sun­day, as of­fi­cials be­gan eval­u­at­ing for­est fires threat­en­ing other com­mu­ni­ties to de­ter­mine if thou­sands more could re­turn.

Duane McKay with the province's emer­gency man­age­ment depart­ment said fires and thick smoke were no longer pos­ing a risk to Grand­mother's Bay and buses were to trans­port at least 130 peo­ple back to the First Na­tion.

“That's a good pos­i­tive step for­ward and hope­fully over the next cou­ple of days, as we plan for this, we'll have other op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple to re­turn home,” he said.

Wild­fires sparked in the north over the past two weeks have forced about 13,000 out of their homes in at least 50 com­mu­ni­ties. They are stay­ing in ho­tels and shel­ters through­out the province, as well as next door in Cold Lake, Alta. Last week, 200 peo­ple from the Wah­peton Dakota, Stur­geon Lake and Lit­tle Red re­serves north of Prince Al­bert were al­lowed to go home.

On Satur­day night, ve­hi­cles car­ry­ing about 150 peo­ple from five com­mu­ni­ties in the north­east - Missinipe, Ot­ter Rapids, Bra­bant, Southend and the Athabasca Basin - were es­corted back. Those com­mu­ni­ties had not been un­der evac­u­a­tion or­ders but fires had cut off their road ac­cess.

McKay said an as­sess­ment of fires that have put the re­main­ing com­mu­ni­ties at risk might be com­pleted Mon­day. Of­fi­cials are look­ing at whether hot spots could flare up and start new fires, as well as if com­mu­ni­ties still have phone, power and gas ser­vices.

“We want to make sure we can de­ter­mine there is no threat,” he said. “In the next 24-hour pe­riod we'll have a list that will say in so many days these com­mu­ni­ties can start prep­ping to go home.”

There were 124 fires burn­ing in the province Sun­day and wind was help­ing to clear smoke in the east, es­pe­cially near La Ronge, one of the largest com­mu­ni­ties evac­u­ated last week when fire came within two kilo­me­tres. Roberts said rain forecast for the next few days could help “sig­nif­i­cantly.”

Nearly 60 fire­fight­ing spe­cial­ists from the United States have joined the ef­fort to help with fire be­hav­iour and man­age crews, heavy equip­ment and air­craft.

About 430 sol­diers and re­servists were work­ing on fire lines and more were be­ing trained. Armed Forces spokesman Lt. Derek Reid said, once train­ing is com­plete, 600 mil­i­tary per­son­nel would be fight­ing fires and 250 would be work­ing in sup­port roles.

CP PHOTO

A burned out cabin is shown at Waden Bay, 380 kms north of Saska­toon, on Satur­day.

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