Travel alert issued for northern Saskatchewan due to wildfire risk

An aircraft acquired from the Northwest Territories to support northern fire crews was debriefed in La Ronge on Friday

The Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) put out an alert on Friday advising against unnecessary travel to northern Saskatchewan. 

“Some fires we’ve already identified and likely more by the end of the day,” SPSA vice-president of operations Steve Roberts said. 

“We’re sending out a general warning and advisory to anyone who is planning to travel — that could impact their activities in the north… The provincial fire ban will remain in place for the next number of days.” 

Power was restored to several northern communities as winds shifted — blowing smoke from northern wildfires south through Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina.

Lightning strikes overnight caused some new fires on Friday. Submitted photo/Emily Kammermayer

Lightning strikes caused some new fires on Friday due to storms overnight. The agency reported 137 active fires on Friday morning putting the province at 382 fires so far this year — which is 170 fires more than the five-year average. 

SPSA director of emergency and crisis support Joan Hrycyk said the agency is providing accommodations, food and other necessities for 63 evacuees in North Battleford. The agency is also supporting eight evacuees from Whelan Bay in Prince Albert.

Some other residents have been sent to Loydminster and the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation evacuated Southend/Reindeer Lake residents to Prince Albert and Saskatoon.

Roberts said shifts in wind direction have been helpful to getting a handle on some fires but are also the cause of smoke moving south past Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina. 

“Winds have been primarily heading to the north. Because of the northern system those winds will shift and they will start blowing toward the south,” Roberts said. 

“It has cleared off some of the fires in the north which will allow some crews to get some better tactical advantages on a few of those fires.”

Fire at Rabbit Creek and Creighton Junction along Highway 2 caused intermittent closures. La Ronge fire department

Roberts said the Rabbit Fire south of La Ronge is causing intermittent closures along Highway 2 that connects La Ronge with Prince Albert. 

There are some intermittent highway closures in the Beauval area because of a fire southwest of the community, Roberts said. A fire adjacent to a highway north of Dorintosh is causing a similar situation.   

Roberts said crews are still working on the Lock Fire near St. George’s Hill, Michel Village, Dillon and Buffalo River Dene Nation. A fire north of Smeaton will likely cause “some closure and restrictions” on Highway 106. 

“That fire is actually impacting the southern half of Narrow Hills Provincial Park — so we have asked them to put campers and recreational folks in the south half of the park on should that fire continue to grow,” Roberts said.

“Our expectation is the winds will be from the north — which will keep the fire from moving into the park any further.”

Roberts said a fire north of Candle Lake now impacting Highway 963 “grew quickly” leading to the evacuation of the Whelan Bay area. 

Electricity and cellular service impacted

Power was out for more than 24 hours in Wollaston Lake and Hatchet Lake First Nation until crews finished repairs on Friday.

It’s likely that fire in the area damaged SaskPower’s line into Wollaston Lake. Power lines/SaskPower

“It’s likely that the fire in the area damaged our line into that community. For safety reasons we were not able to get in there last night,” SaskPower spokesperson Joel Cherry said.  

“We’re monitoring about 10 other fires in northern Saskatchewan and we’re going to work closely with the SPSA and fire safety on those.”

SaskPower reported emergency repair teams replaced burnt poles and restored power to  Grandmother’s Bay, Missinipe and surrounding areas Thursday evening.  

Power was out for about an hour in Buffalo Narrows, Dillon, Michel Village, St.George’s Hill, and surrounding areas Thursday morning.  

SaskTel service interruptions in nine northern communities were caused by a burned fibre line.

The communities of Southend, Collins Bay, Wollaston Lake, Grandmother’s Bay, Missinipe, Brabant Lake, Stony Rapids, McClean Lake, Cigar Lake and surrounding areas were all without service Friday morning.

SaskTel external communications manager Lindsay Mazenc said crews were dispatched but repair time would depend on when it’s safe for workers to access the sites.  

“Wireless services in the areas are operational but we’re experiencing significant congestion on the network due to increased traffic,” Mazenc said. 

“We are working to give voice traffic the highest priority to alleviate that congestion but there is still quite a bit of demand.” 

A new aircraft acquired from the Northwest Territories was being briefed in La Ronge on Friday morning. 

“That (aircraft) will greatly assist either first strike or community protection and efforts from the air,” Roberts said.

The province added 58 local firefighters to its response team and crews are being deployed to make sure no fires start within communities.

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