Prince Albert declares state of emergency, evacuations underway, as estimated 1,000 hectare fire burns on northeast city border

Photos submitted by Daily Herald staff.

Helicopters, ground crews, multiple air tanker groups and heavy equipment have all been called in, at least 20 homes are under evacuation notices, and the City of Prince Albert has declared a State of Emergency after a large wildfire began rapidly spreading in Nisbet Provincial Forest Monday afternoon.

All residents living or working north of Hwy 55, east of Cloverdale Rd, and set of the Honeymoon Rd. have been asked to evacuate. City officials have directed all evacuees to the Margo Fournier Centre at 1211 First Avenue West, where staff are waiting to register them. The RM of Buckland has also encouraged residents to head to the Margo Fournier Centre.

Early provincial alerts indicated that residents could gather at the Art Hauser Centre to register, but the City has put up signs directing all evacuees to the Margo Fournier.

Mayor Greg Dionne said the City faces a difficult road ahead in containing the fire, but he’s optimistic fire crews can keep the damage to a minimum.

Submitted photo. The fire as seen from the Prince Albert airport.

“This is a monster that we’re fighting,” Dionne told reporters during a Monday evening press conference. “We’ll be here all night, and probably into tomorrow.

“I ask people to stay away from the scene. We have to be able to get in and out freely, and we’re also worried about their safety. We don’t know when the wind changes direction, or what this fire can do.”

What started as a small fire had grown to more than 1,000 hectares by 8:30 p.m. The fire forced police to close portions of Hwy 55 between the City of PA and the pulp mill access. Drivers were asked to use White Star Rd. and Hwy 2 instead.

SaskPower confirmed that services to Meath Park, Paddockwood, and surrounding rural areas are also out due to fire. As of 7:24 p.m., crews were still working on restoring damage. Power is also out to Waskesiu, La Ronge and Stanley Mission.

A SaskPower spokesperson said several power poles are inaccessible due to fire, but crews are monitoring them via helicopter.

Dionne said evacuees should prepare to be away from home for three or four days while crews extinguish the fire.

Smoke rises in the distance as a Prince Albert firefighter unloads some equipment on Evergreen Rd. – Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald

“It’s supposed to cool off here, and we’re supposed to get rain later in the week, but that’s why I tell you, when it comes to a fire this big, we are at the mercy of the weather,” he said.

An emergency alert sent out at 4:50 p.m. on Monday warned residents of a “fast-moving” wildfire threatening those who live and work in the area. Multiple fire departments have responded to contain the blaze, according to the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency.

Kim Morrall and her family were one of several forced to evacuate when the fire started to spread. Morrall said she’s grateful her family is safe, but it’s difficult to leave with so much uncertainty.

“It’s stressful, thinking that your house might not be there next time you see it,” she said.

“You’re sitting there thinking, ‘what’s important?’ Luckily my kids were home from school today, so it’s like, ‘get the photo albums,’ but you’re kind of freaking out. You’re just thinking, ‘what’s important? What do we need to take? Then afterwards you think, ‘oh, I didn’t take this and I didn’t take that.’ Yeah, it’s a little bit panicky, and very stressful, but we’re okay.”

Morrall said her family has received multiple offers to stay with family and friends over the next few days, so they’re not worried about the short term. Instead, the fire has reinforced their faith in their friends and neighbours, and given them a new appreciation for the fire crews battling the blaze.

“It’s amazing, actually, how many people have texted their support,” she said.

Morrall said her daughter originally heard about a fire at Little Red, but didn’t think anything of it until her husband called to ask where it was. She drove out to investigate, and soon encountered a police roadblock, where officers advised her to begin preparing to evacuate. Just a few minutes after returning home, emergency crews arrived at her house to give the evacuation order.

The family lives on a roughly seven-and-a-half acre property, and Morall said they could see the smoke and flames creep closer and closer as they packed.

“I went back outside and it was definitely a lot bigger,” she said. “It still didn’t look like it was on our property, but it was spreading. I thought, ‘okay, we’ve got to go, now!’”

The fire is located directly adjacent to the northeastern City boundary.

–with files from Michael Oleksyn and Peter Lozinski