The Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) lifted a province-wide fire ban on Monday citing progress fighting wildfires in the north over the weekend. Some northern communities still have local fire bans in effect.
“We have been able to make headway on a number of fires,” SPSA vice president of operations Steve Roberts said Monday morning. “Over the weekend we received scattered precipitation and cooler temperatures across the northern half of the province… That has prompted us to revoke the provincial fire ban.”
The agency reported 161 active fires in the province on Monday — a total of 424 fires so far this year or double the provincial five-year average of 214 fires. While the cooler weather brought intermittent rain to some areas, “lightning in a large quantity” also started more fires, Roberts said.
“Our fire numbers are actually up but the fire behaviour has been diminished because of the favourable conditions… So we have rescinded the fire ban, even though we still have fire workload in front of us.”
The province-wide ban has been in place since July 2 and applied to all Crown lands, provincial parks and the Northern Saskatchewan Administration District. Roberts said local jurisdictions can decide if they will impose fire bans or not.
“They will still have the right to impose fire bans based on their local conditions,” Roberts said. “But the majority of areas will have their fire bans corrected. Anything on provincial land will be removed as of 11 o’clock today.”
The agency reported several communities and highways are still threatened by fires right now in the province. Roberts said the agency is focused on containing fires nearby Dillon, Michel Village and Saint George’s Hill in the northwest as well as fires nearby to Grandmother’s Bay and Stanley Mission in the northeast.
“We continue to extend our crews (and) resources to those as high priority fires… those that are threatening communities and highways in the province,” Roberts said. “The White Fire that was a threat to Whelan Bay is now listed as contained. The Fork Fire, which was a threat to Beauval, is also now listed as contained.”
Joan Hrycyk, director of emergency and crisis support at the SPSA, said the agency is supporting 84 evacuees in North Battleford. An evacuation order was lifted for the Whelan Bay area — 12 residents who were being housed in Prince Albert and Nipawin are now going home, she said.
“There was no additional evacuations over the weekend. We had a couple of extra people from the Lock Fire, so the number of evacuees is 84, and we had a couple of extra people from the White Fire.”
The Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation community of Southend remains under a mandatory evacuation order.
The English River First Nation in the northwest and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band in the northeast are among those First Nations that will continue with fire bans for the time being.
The La Ronge Regional Fire Department said there is a fire ban in place for the area until further notice. Rabbit Creek residents can return to their properties now that fire there is under control.
Maurice Ratt, emergency response coordinator for the Lac La Ronge Indian Band reported no threat to the communities of Stanley Mission or Grandmother’s Bay.
“Crews continue to make good progress on the fire lines, there is no threat to the community. Leadership is now rescinding the voluntary evacuation notice (and) all members of (Grandmother’s Bay) are now on their way home,” Ratt said. “We do have our local fire ban that is still in effect.”
Roberts said the SPSA has been able to hire an additional 150 local firefighters to work on wildland fires and cautioned against unnecessary travel to the north until crews are finished working.
“People are reminded that several highways are impacted or even closed due to fires,” Roberts said. “We still recommend avoiding travel to northern areas due to smoke… potential access restrictions and to ensure that our firefighting efforts are not hampered by folks in the area.”
Environment Canada air quality warnings are in place throughout Saskatchewan due to smokey conditions.