Prince Albert to receive Ontario wildfire evacuees

Prince Albert is in line to receive a few hundred wildfire evacuees from Northern Ontario.

Saskatchewan answered a call for assistance put out by the Ontario Government Wednesday seeking help accommodating evacuees fleeing wildfire and smoke in the northern portion of the province. Between 2,000 and 3,000 evacuees are set to arrive in Saskatchewan over the next couple of days.

The first 400 evacuees arrived at the Regina airport yesterday and were bussed to the University of Regina. The university can accommodate about 500 people. About 150 hotel rooms have also been secured in the provincial capital.

The evacuees hail from Pikangikum First Nation, a community of over 2,000 people located about 100 km from the Manitoba border and about as far north as Saskatoon.

Once Regina is at capacity, arrivals will be housed in Saskatoon. Once Saskatoon is full, the remainder will be sent to Prince Albert.

Information about the exact number of evacuees coming to P.A. and when they might arrive was not available Thursday, as its dependent the number of evacuees and the situation in Ontario.

While details were sparse, government spokespeople indicated that both a congregant shelter and hotel space was being organized in partnership with the Red Cross in both Saskatoon and Prince Albert. For now, the focus is on Regina.

“We’ve seen significant wildfire activity in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario. Through our normal network of mutual aid, we keep in close contact with all of our partner provinces and territories to see how we can help,” said Duane McKay, the vice president operations of the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency.

“Saskatchewan has been spared (from wildfires) this year. We have lots of experience in this area, so we’re happy to help out our friends in Ontario.”

Saskatchewan has activated its emergency operations centre and reached out to partner organizations to assist. In addition to the Red Cross, who is working closely with the province to accommodate the evacuees, the province is in touch with First Nations Emergency Management, the Prince Albert Grand Council, Saskatoon Tribal Council and Yorkton Tribal Council and Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.

“We recognize that in a normal evacuation that would occur within your own province can be stressful. Moving to another jurisdiction completely is adding a little bit more stress to this group,” McCkay said.

“We want to make sure we’re doing as good a job as we possibly can to make this as comfortable as possible and reduce the stress wherever we can.”

Ontario is also contributing to that effort, sending First Nations liaison officers and cultural officers, as well as interpreters, as many of the evacuees don’t speak English but are fluent in Ojibwe.

Many of the supports being offered to the evacuees are being provided by Emergency Social Services.

“We’re also working with Indigenous leaders and organizations to help welcome the evacuees during their stay with us and to help reduce the stress of this difficult time,” said Deanna Valentine of Emergency Social Services.

‘We provide evacuees with the basic necessities — such as shelter, food, personal items, access to medical and mental health care and emergency transportation.”

Community partners, such as local not for profit groups, help with recreation. Recreational activities are expected to begin in Regina today.

The costs of housing the evacuees are covered up front by the Red Cross and Emergency Social Services. They will then bill the costs back to the governments of Ontario and Canada.

It’s not the first time wildfire evacuees have been hosted in a different province.

In the 2015 Saskatchewan wildfire season, a few hundred evacuees from northern Saskatchewan were hosted in Cold Lake, Alta.