Prince Albert Fire Chief Kris Olsen said he’s confident with his department’s response to a roughly 4,000-hectare fire burning northeast of Prince Albert, but added there’s still a lot of work to do before it’s out.
PA Firefighters have worked extensively to create firebreaks since the early hours of the morning, Olsen told reporters, while also sprinkling residential structures in the area. The fire has since grown to
Speaking during a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Olsen said the fire is not considered contained, but he’s confident their response has been effective.
“Of course, with any instance, you’re always going to step back and say ‘what could we have done better’ but I think our response was excellent,” Olsen told reporters.
“With any emergency, there’s always the unexpected, but I feel we have the systems in place (to handle it) and will work within the mandate that we have,” he added.
Olsen said they’ve received no reports of any damage to residential structures within City limits at this time. There is also no word on when evacuated residents will be allowed to return to their homes. Provincial officials said Tuesday morning that no residential structures have been lost. Sprinkler units are in place and are working thus far, they said.
Olsen said that message will be communicated to residents as soon as they have an answer. He urged evacuees to register at the Margo Fournier Centre to make getting in touch as easy as possible.
“Communication is key during situations like this,” Olsen said. “People feel updated. They feel like they’re informed, and they feel like they’re in the know.”
The City of Prince Albert sent out a joint press release with the RMs of Buckland and Garden River, urging evacuees to call 306-953-4816 to register, or visit the Margo Fournier Centre in person at 1211 First Avenue West.
A total of 28 evacuees were housed in hotels last night, according to the press release. The City of Prince Albert says 50 have registered at the Margo Fournier Centre.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Buckland Reeve Don Fyrk said no residences have been lost in the RM. Nine members from Buckland Fire and Rescue spent four hours battling the blaze on Monday before being released by the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency. Fire crews were back on the scene on Tuesday putting out hotspots throughout the area.
“We’re hanging in there,” Fyrk said. “I just hope we get some rain real quick.”
Fyrk said they’ve received reports the fire has jumped Hwy 55 for a second time. He’s hoping it will burn itself out once it gets into farm land, but added he’s not taking anything for granted.
“I don’t have any confidence in any fire,” he said.
At 2:30 p.m., the RM advised evacuees that they should not expect to return home for at least one more night.
Residents in the RM of Garden River have been asked to prepare for the evacuation. A voluntary evacuation advisory was sent out to residents living within 2 km of the Nisbet Provincial Forest at around 11:20 a.m.
On Monday night, the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) reported the fire as around 1,000 hectares in size. Tuesday’s press release placed the fire at around 40 square km, or 4,000 hectares.
Hwy 55 has been closed in both directions between Prince Albert and Meath Park. Drivers planning to enter Prince Albert from the north should use Hwy 355 West at Meath Park, and Hwy 2 South.
RCMP have advised drivers to avoid all major grid roads between Hwy 55 and Hwy 355 to make room for emergency agencies transporting equipment and water.
Those road closures are expected to last until at least Wednesday night.
The Cecil Ferry is open to residents looking to evacuate south to Prince Albert.
The SPSA said Tuesday that fire crews were battling strong winds and warm temperatures as they sought to contain the fire. It had crossed Honeymoon Road in the east, and continued to be active on that flank with winds blowing from west to east.
While there is no rain in the forecast, cooler temperatures are expected over the next few days which should reduce wildfire activity.
Officials said they don’t yet know if any sheds or outbuildings had burnt or been damaged, as they haven’t been able to get crews in to the fire’s hotspots.
What has burned, though, includes some power poles. A SaskPower spokesperson said power would remain out for about 9,000 customers through the day Tuesday because of damage to ten power poles, some burning right to the ground. SaskTel also reported outages due to the fire.
While commercial and industrial assets are fine, the fire did burn some log decks at Carrier’s mill in the area. The Prince Albert Pulp and Paper mill, though, isn’t affected, as it’s surrounded by a large clearing, officials said.
An investigation into the cause of and damage done by the fire is being undertaken by multiple agencies. At its closest point, the fire was within 4 km of city limits, however it has grown in the opposite direction. Risk to the rest of the city is not expected to increase in the coming days. The fire is burning towards farmland, officials said, which reduces the fuel available and helps slow the fire’s spread. Work Tuesday is focused on maintaining existing fire control lines.
Heavy equipment, water and retardant bombers and ground crews are continuing to fight the blaze. Water bombers are scooping from Sturgeon Lake, while the retardant bombers are refilling at the Prince Albert airport. Additional aircrews and equipment have been brought in to supplement the team regularly based in Prince Albert.
Officials said Tuesday that the dry weather and proximity to infrastructure are the biggest factors complicating the fire response.
–with files from Michael Oleksyn and Peter Lozinski