The number of residents taking shelter in Prince Albert after fleeing northern wildfires has risen to 1,206, the province said in a Friday morning conference call.
The city is considered “at capacity” as there are no more available hotel accommodations for further evacuees. Several evacuees are staying with friends and family, while others are put up in local hotels. Of the 1,206 taking refuge in P.A., 1,084 are from Pelican Narrows. There are also 106 Sandy Bay residents, 14 people from Birch Portage and two from Jan Lake.
A further 911 people are in Saskatoon, housed in a congregate centre, hotels, with friends and family and a handful are camping. About 350 people remain in Pelican Narrows.
While the wildfires continue to burn near Pelican Narrows, Birch Portage and Jan Lake, weather over the last 24 hours has kept the fires stable, allowing crews to continue to build strong fireguards to protect infrastructure.
Steve Roberts, executive director of the province’s wildfire management branch, said critical infrastructure, such as SaskPower and SaskTel substations, have been protected with bulldozed fireguards and sprinkler systems. The same is true for the subdivision of Jan Lake. There have been no reports of community or critical infrastructure burned at this time.
There are over 150 firefighting personnel working on the three fires, assisted by seven pieces of heavy equipment, including bulldozers and water tankers. The entire provincial wildfire fighting air fleet is also available, and equipment such as fire trucks are in place should there be a risk to buildings in the community.
The nearest fire, the Preston fire, is still burning just 3 km north of Pelican Narrows. Crews put a significant amount of work into controlling the south flank of the fire, Roberts said. The main risk remains smoke, though shifting winds have cleared the skies in nearby Sandy Bay.
The other issue for Sandy Bay is access to supplies. The community was running low on some grocery store staples. A small transport truck loaded with a few thousand dollars worth of grocery items was sent from Prince Albert by the province to the community leaders who had requested supplies. The province is continuing to monitor that situation and will send more food if necessary.
While the province acknowledged the desire of many to help, spokesperson Jay Teneycke said donations are not required right now.
“The province does not require any donations in terms of food,” he said.
‘We appreciate the sentiment and desire to provide those items.”
He encouraged anyone who wants to help out to get in touch with their local service organizations.
It’s unclear right now when it will be safe for the hundreds of evacuated residents to return home.
“It’s hard to determine when the event will be over (as it’s) weather-driven,” said Duane McKay, director of emergency management and fire safety.
That means back to school may not take place anytime soon for evacuated children. If the situation continues beyond next week, substitute teachers will be brought in to begin the school year in Prince Albert and Saskatoon for evacuated students. Whether that’s necessary depends on how the fire behaves over the next week.