The wildfire burning in the Fort à la Corne provincial forest has grown more than five times its original size over the weekend.
The fire is now listed at 28,847 hectares, or 288 square kilometres. That’s larger than the area of Saskatoon and more than four times larger than the City of Prince Albert.
The fire ignited last Friday, May 8. It’s listed as human-caused.
Nearby James Smith Cree Nation, located to the south, has evacuated vulnerable community members due to heavy smoke in the area. Chief Wally Burns told the Herald he heard there was heavy quad use in the area prior to the ignition. He was thankful for the Prince Albert Grand COuncil’s efforts to assist with evacuation, but critical of what he saw as the province’s slow response to manage the fire.
In addition to the evacuations, the Cree Nation has trapping blocks in that area, Burns said.
Rio Tinto, which operates a diamond exploration operation in the area, has removed all but essential staff and has taken measures such as installing sprinklers and building fire guards.
The province has issued advisory alerts for the RMs of Garden River and Torch River.
Residents of the RM of Torch River and RM of Garden River are “to prepare and be ready to take action should an evacuation be required. The public is being asked to avoid travel in the area. Follow directions of local authorities. Close windows, doors and vents, and take all necessary precautions,” the province wrote.
Heavy smoke is expected in Smeaton, Snowden, Shipman, Meath Park and Weirdale.
The fire was marked as contained last week, but jumped a fire guard and began to spread when high winds kicked up on Friday.
The fire has been dubbed the “English” fire by the Province of Saskatchewan. Its boundary was measured by GPS on Saturday. According to the latest fire boundary estimates from the provincial government, it stretches from the Saskatchewan River in the south to the forest’s edge in the north. It measures about 21 km across north-south at its widest point, and 17 km across east-west.
According to Joanne Francis of Nipawin News, the evening of Saturday May 16th, farm owners along the north boundary of the Fort à la Corne Provincial Forest, who had been given notice to prepare for possible evacuation, where busy hauling horses safely away from the fire, setting up sprinklers and making fire breaks by discing their land.
The fire jumped the White Fox River and reached farmland south west of Smeaton. Smeaton Volunteer Fire Department attended and join residents working to prevent the field fires from reaching yard sites with homes and buildings.
Heavy, dirty smoke rolled into the eastern part of the RM’s of Torch River and Nipawin, with ash and smoldering embers falling across the region.
The wildfire is currently burning along the southwest edge of the RM of Torch River, from range road 2185 west to range road #2220, the province said in its emergency alert.
RMs introduce fire bans
Nearby RMs have put fire bans in place as dry conditions raise the risk of wildfires.
The RM of Prince Albert announced a fire ban Monday morning,.
No new fire permits will be issued to land owners, whose property lies within the Fire Ban area.
Any permits issued to land owners prior to this Fire Ban will be suspended until further notice.
Fire bans also exist in the RM of Torchwood, Nipawin and Duck Lake. The Town of La Ronge and Village of Air Ronge also have fire bans, according to the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency.
The fire risk for the Prince Albert area is listed as “high” today, but some regions will see a more moderate risk tomorrow.
Severe thunderstorms are expected in southern and central Saskatchewan this week. Thunderstorms are expected in Western Saskatchewan Tuesday. According to the Weather network, thunderstorm risk extends east to Prince Albert.
As of Wednesday, thunderstorm risk is present for most of the southern half of the province. Severe risk covers the southwest part of the province, stretching north to just past Saskatoon.