Non-essential travel to Saskatchewan's north discouraged due to record-setting wildfires

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An aircraft helps extinguish a wildfire near La Ronge, Thursday.  (Don Somers/CBC - image credit)
An aircraft helps extinguish a wildfire near La Ronge, Thursday. (Don Somers/CBC - image credit)

The Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency has issued an alert asking residents to avoid all non-essential travel to the province's north, as wildfires continue to threaten communities and create low visibility in some areas.

Many highways in the northern part of the province are directly affected by fire or smoke, Steve Roberts, vice-president of operations for the public safety agency, said Friday during a provincial update on the wildfires.

Those who are travelling in the area are advised to check the Highway Hotline for any road closures.

The following fires have been flagged by the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency as fires of concern due to their proximity to communities and highways:

  • The Forks fire, south of Beauval, is affecting the highways in the area, with intermittent highway closures.

  • The Strike fire, north of Dorintosh, is creating a similar situation. Highways adjacent to the community will be intermittently closed.

  • The Rabbit fire, south of La Ronge, is moving adjacent to Highway 2 North.

  • The Harding fire, north of Smeaton, has resulted in restrictions and closures on Highway 106.

  • The White fire, is a new fire that started Thursday evening just north of Candle Lake, is posing a threat to the Whiteswan Lake Resort and Highway 963.

  • The GMB01 fire, near Grandmother's Bay, is not encroaching closer to the community. All activity has been secured, but officials continue to monitor the highways surrounding the area.

  • The Mule fire, near Stanley Mission, poses a threat to the community and the Rapid River Dam.

  • The Lynx fire, west of Stanley Mission, is affecting Highways 102 and 915.

  • The Grey fire, north of Missinipe, is affecting Highway 102.

  • The Klyne fire, near Southend, is a direct concern for the community and Highway 102.

Don Somers/CBC
Don Somers/CBC

Evacuation notice, SaskTel service outages

People in the southern half of Narrow Hills Provincial Park have been given a standby evacuation notice due to smoke from the Harding fire.

"Campers and recreational folks in the south half of the park are on advisory should that fire continue to grow northward," Roberts said.

"Our expectation is the winds will be from the north which will keep the fire from moving into the park any further over the next 24 hours."

Don Somers/CBC
Don Somers/CBC

Nine communities in the north have no SaskTel services. They include Collins Bay, Southend, Stony Rapids, Wollaston Lake, Grandmother's Bay, Missinipe, Brabant Lake, McClean Lake and Cigar Lake, and the surrounding communities served by those exchanges.

The outage is caused by a fire that burned through a fibre optic cable, said Lindsay Mazenc, external communications manager with SaskTel.

Don Somers/CBC
Don Somers/CBC

There is no estimate on when the issue will be resolved.

"We have technicians en route to the suspected cut, but it depends if conditions are safe for them to get close enough for repairs," Mazenc said.

There is still wireless service in the area, but SaskTel is experiencing significant congestion on the network due to demand.

Record-setting year

Saskatchewan's 2021 wildfire count has already exceeded the five-year average by over 170 fires.

There have been 383 fires to date this year. The five-year average is 210, according to the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency.

As of Friday, 137 fires remain active in the province. Overnight storms contributed to new fires due to lightning strikes, the safety agency said.

Don Somers/CBC
Don Somers/CBC

Saskatchewan has secured an additional aircraft from the Northwest Territories that "will greatly assist community protection and efforts from the air," Roberts said.

Another 58 local firefighters have been deployed to assist with internal community protection at Southend and Dillon.

"These are structural firefighters that are coming forward to assist us, and basically patrol … and make sure no fires come into the communities as we fight the wildfires directly," Roberts said.

The provincewide fire ban will remain in place until further notice.

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