La Loche evacuee displaced by northern Sask. wildfire 'tired, overwhelmed' after arriving in Regina
Molly Herman had been up for more than 24 hours by the time she and her three children, all under the age of three, arrived in Regina Friday morning.
Herman and her family were among 147 wildfire evacuees who took a nine-hour bus ride south from La Loche overnight.
"I'm exhausted, tired, overwhelmed," Herman said after reaching the downtown Ramada hotel.
"The fire was right outside my backyard.… You could just see flames in the air like a block away."
The village of La Loche, which is about 750 kilometres northwest of Regina as the crow flies, was placed under a state of emergency Thursday night by local council.
That included a full evacuation order due to encroaching wildfire and harmful plumes of smoke, which the mayor of La Loche said earlier this week could affect about 3,000 people.
"I was listening to the community radio and I was literally shedding tears while I was packing my babies," Herman said.
She told CBC News this week's events took her back to 2015, when a historic wildfire season forced thousands from their homes in northern Saskatchewan.
"I'm just praying, dearly God, that our homes are safe right now and everything goes well," she said. "And to go home safe soon."
As of 11 a.m. Saturday, the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency said the fire between La Loche and neighbouring Clearwater River Dene Nation covered 266 hectares, and had not damaged any homes or buildings.
The agency issued an alert for the region Saturday morning because the wildfire smoke has worsened the air quality and reduced visibility in some areas.
Environment Canada also issued air quality statements for the area.
'What choice do I have?'
Herman said she was grateful to find out her father, who lives in a care home, had been safely transported to a facility in Meadow Lake.
Despite the stress, she said it's important people leave the area.
"Don't hesitate. Don't panic. Pack what you need and get out," she said.
La Loche resident Don Montgrand said he didn't have time to gather up clothes before having to leave.
"I wish I could've grabbed my clothes and stuff, but what choice do I have?" he told CBC News in Regina on Friday.
Montgrand said he is currently with one of his sons in Regina, while his other son went to Saskatoon.
A separate active wildfire in Saskatchewan, which had grown to 5,000 hectares as of 11 a.m. Saturday, forced the evacuations of Saulteaux and Moosomin First Nations on Thursday, about 35 kilometres north of North Battleford.
The Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs is leading the evacuation process for the communities.
In a Facebook post Friday night, the tribal council said a reception centre for evacuees will be located at the Don Ross Community Centre in North Battleford from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
The tribal council said it will have a representative at the centre to discuss family needs and make referrals for resources.
The council is also providing shuttles for families from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday to pick up supplies in the city. Walmart gift cards are also being provided by the tribal council to evacuees.
Regina has capacity: province
People from several communities were displaced by wildfires this week, with evacuees settling mostly in Meadow Lake, Lloydminster and Regina.
Steve Roberts, the vice-president of operations for the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, said the capital was the best location for La Loche evacuees due to capacity.
"When we were doing the evacuation planning with the community, potentially we have to be prepared to handle up to 3,000 evacuees," Roberts said.
"Lloydminster, Battlefords, Prince Albert cannot handle those types of numbers. They're also receiving local evacuees already from Clearwater River Dene Nation."
The First Nation, which borders La Loche, started evacuating Wednesday night. By Thursday, spaces in designated Meadow Lake were full and people were directed to Lloydminster.
Roberts added the safety agency wants families and groups to be together. Not all evacuees from La Loche chose to come to Regina on provided buses.
He said anyone preparing for evacuation should visit the safety agency's website for updates and emergency planning tips, like making sure they have easy access to medications and important documents.
"You never know when a situation will require you to evacuate or leave your home," Roberts said.
"So if you're prepared for that and have your list … it makes it a lot easier and a lot less stress if you end up in that situation."