The Saskatchewan wildfire situation has stabilized, but it doesn’t look like Pelican Narrows evacuees will be heading home anytime soon.
According to Wednesday’s wildfire conference call with media, there is still an emergency going on, and action being taken, but things have “kind of reached an equilibrium,” according to government affairs spokesperson Jay Tenecke.
The fires haven’t increased in size, however they are still burning near the communities of Pelican Narrows, Jan Lake and Birch Portage.
As hot and dry weather continues, fire bans remain in place and crews on high alert. A cache of equipment, as well as personnel, has been stationed in Maple Creek and in Regina to keep an eye on the southern part of the province. A large grass fire ignited over the weekend near the province’s southern border. While it was brought under control, it was a reminder that the entirety of Saskatchewan south of the Churchill River remains at high risk for fire.
Up near Pelican Narrows, about 280 personnel, 20 helicopters and 20 pieces of heavy equipment continue to work to protect communities and vital infrastructure.
More boots will hit the ground when it becomes safe to do so.
“In the Pelican Narrows area, because it’s dry, because of the volatile fuels and the wind shifts, we’ve had very few areas where we’ve been able to stabilize the fire where it’s safe enough to put people on the ground,” said Steve Roberts, executive director of wildfire management.
‘As we put anchor points in and start to (attack the fire), you’ll see the manpower and resources going up.”
The province will continue to bring in heavy equipment, such as bulldozers, as areas become stable enough to do so without putting people’s safety at risk.
Further north, in Sandy Bay, the government continues to ship food and other basic necessities up to the community. Fire and smoke continue to threaten the highway in and out, leading to closures. People who evacuated from Sandy Bay due to smoke concerns are able to return home in guided convoys should they desire to return.
There are currently 26 active wildfires burning in the province, and there have been 314 fires so far this year. The five-year average is 446 fires.
‘Prince Albert is full’
There is no more room in Prince Albert hotels for evacuees. Of the 2,515 residents who have taken refuge from the fires, 1,657 are staying in Prince Albert. Almost all of those people are staying in hotels. According to Emergency Social Services (ESS) spokesperson Deanna Valentine, it was at times hard to find rooms for people over the long weekend as the hotels are at capacity.
“Prince Albert is full,” she said.
“There are no more hotel accommodations. We would encourage anyone who does need to register and will need accommodations to go to Saskatoon because we do still have room for accommodating more people in Saskatoon.”
While officials have been saying Prince Albert is at capacity for a while, some people did not immediately register, but did take refuge in P.A. Those people have been registering as they find themselves in need of support.
If people are still looking for a place to stay and they cannot get to Saskatoon, they can approach ESS or Red Cross personnel in Prince Albert for assistance. The Prince Albert reception centre is located at the Senator Allen Bird Memorial Centre on Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation grounds in P.A.
While the influx of people has slowed, ESS is continuing to provide for the needs of evacuees.
“This event has sort of reached a steady state. We are continuing to register people who have left their homes but didn’t register at the outset and are now needing services,” Valentine said.
“We are carrying on with meeting concerns of residents. We have adjusted things like mealtimes and lights out times in response to what the community would like. We’re also continuing with daily recreational activities in both Prince Albert and Saskatoon to make sure everybody has lots to do while they’re here.”
Valentine responded to a question from a reporter who had spoken with an elder. The elder had said they need more things to do so people don’t get themselves in trouble.
Valentine said ESS is working on planning a bunch of recreational activities to keep people occupied. That includes trips to local attractions, bowling trips, bingo, colouring contests and movie nights. In Prince Albert, it included a concert held for evacuees and members of the community Thursday night.
While the situation has stabilized to a point, it’s still unclear when people may be able to return home. The fire, helped by the weather, is still burning strong. Until weather intervenes or the fire burns itself out, it’s difficult for crews to do much more than hold it at bay.
The weather forecast for the next week shows hot, dry temperatures over the weekend. While it is expected to cool off late next week, strong winds are expected and there isn’t any rain in the forecast for the Pelican Narrows area.
That means it may still be several days before residents can return home.