Smoke and fire warnings for northern Sask. as more areas evacuate

Province-wide fire ban remains in effect as fire risk remains high to extreme across Saskatchewan

Residents of Whelan Bay and Rabbit Creek were evacuated on Thursday, while smoke and fire warnings put several other communities on evacuation alert.

Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) vice-president of operations Steve Roberts said there are 129 active fires in the province — up by nine from the day before.

“Fire risk remains high to extreme across the province… The fire ban will remain in effect and will be reviewed in a couple days based on those weather conditions,” Roberts said.  

“We are now at 367 wildfires (this year), that’s over 150 fires more than our five-year average. “

In the northwest, fires are active in the vicinity of Dillon, St. George’s Hill and Michel Village.  In the northeast, fires near Grandmother’s Bay, Stanley Mission, and Southend/Reindeer Lake pose a “direct community threat.” Further north, fires “of concern” are active near Stony Rapids and Black Lake.

View looking north from Wadin Bay along Highway 102 on Sunday, July 11, 2021. Southend/Reindeer Lake communities have evacuated to Prince Albert and Saskatoon. Photo by Michael Bramadat-Willcock

SPSA director of emergency and crisis support Joan Hrycyk said there are 58 people from those communities being provided accommodations, food and other necessities in North Battleford and Loydminster.

“We continue to support evacuees in North Battleford,” she said.

There were five fires south of Beauval on Thursday — two of them active and the other four contained. 

Beauval Mayor Nick Daigneaullt has advised residents to keep a packed bag with clothes, personal items and medications readily available if the fire situation changes for any reason. 

The Lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB) has busses ready to assist those who are on standby notice to evacuate from the communities of Grandmother’s Bay, Hall Lake and Stanley Mission due to smoky conditions. 

Buses arrived in La Ronge are on standby in the event communities have to evacuate due to smoke or fires. Photo from Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson

A fire also “made some movement” toward Cameco’s McLean Lake uranium mine site but Roberts said that site is now secure. There are fires in close proximity to Highway 2 North, Highway 102, Highway 106, Highway 155 and Highway 904. 

An Environment Canada air quality warning remains in place for northern Saskatchewan. The SPSA said air quality is being monitored and that “high risk health” residents with health needs are being voluntarily evacuated in some areas. 

Roberts advised wearing medical masks, the same ones that are worn to prevent the spread of coronavirus,  to filter smoke particles from the air. 

He said communities with high smoke levels can assess the risk and take precautions or prepare and evacuate if need be. On-site clean air shelter spaces are also being set up in some communities for residents with “high risk” health needs. 

“Most folks in Saskatchewan do have a medical mask because of COVID and those are also rated to be worn outside because they remove particulate matter,” Roberts said. 

“Most communities are well aware of fires in the north. Most of them have community preparedness plans to prepare for evacuations or fire threat.”

Smoke can be seen rising behind the Beauval General Store at around 2:30 p.m. on July 12. — Photo by Gerri Kyplain.

The La Ronge regional fire department extinguished a wildfire in Nut Point provincial park. All campers in the park were evacuated as a precaution while firefighters and air tankers from the SPSA made multiple drops. 

Conservation Officers and RCMP helped evacuate the area. The fire department said tanker pilots “prevented this call from becoming a serious problem.” 

La Ronge Mayor Colin Ratushniak has been flying firefighters to and from location in his capacity as a pilot with TransWest. People need to be prepared, stay informed and avoid panicking, he said. Residents are not in any immediate danger from either smoke or fire.

A fire at Nut Point campground was extinguished on Thursday. Photo from La Ronge fire department

“There is no imminent threat to our communities at the time. Rabbit Creek, however, is being evacuated as we speak,” Ratushniak said.

“As far as any threat by smoke or fire right now… there’s no plans to evacuate at this time.”

Roberts said there is smoke and haze through most parts of the province because of the prevailing winds and fire activity in Western Canada.

He said the SPSA has asked about getting firefighters from other provinces to help if need be — but the agency is now relying on the local emergency response teams.

“We have (nine) more fires than we had at this time yesterday —  that’s a result of new strikes from lightning primarily,” Roberts said.

“We have been able to contain a number of fires since yesterday as well. So, we get some contained but we get some new ones.”

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