Northern Sask. communities face wildfire evacuations

·4 min read
A wildfire burns near Highway 155 north of Buffalo Narrows, Sask. (Marvin Lemaigre/Facebook - image credit)
A wildfire burns near Highway 155 north of Buffalo Narrows, Sask. (Marvin Lemaigre/Facebook - image credit)

Laura Sticks and her husband were on their way back home to Saint George's Hill, Sask., from Saskatoon on Saturday night when they saw big orange clouds in the sky.

Sticks said that when they arrived home she started packing up bags — just in case — while her husband went to investigate. Within two hours, the community was evacuated because of a wildfire.

"It was so thick with smoke. You couldn't even see the people in front of you that were driving," she said.

Saint George's Hill was one of four communities west of Buffalo Narrows that was evacuated because of the fire. People from Michel Village, Dillon and Buffalo River Dene Nation were evacuated to North Battleford, Lloydminster and other places.

"Everybody was just panicking. I practically cried praying to God to make it stop. I've got grandkids out here... It was very emotional for me," Sticks said.

Linda Sticks
Linda Sticks

Sticks, and her daughter and grandchildren, stayed the night in Buffalo Narrows. On Sunday they travelled to a family member's home in Saskatoon. She said she's glad her daughter and grandchildren are safe and hopes that people back home, including her husband who stayed behind, stay out of danger.

Active fires

There were 93 active fires in the province as of early Monday afternoon, up from 71 Sunday.

Thirty-three of those fires were listed as not contained, meaning that they are being suppressed but are expected to grow in size.

WATCH | A wildfire burns near Highway 155 north of Buffalo Narrows

The Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency held a news conference Monday morning. Vice president of operations Steve Roberts said that whether or not a community evacuates is up to local leadership.

"We'll deal with those as they come apparent and we're willing to assist," he said.

Roberts also said that fires are assessed on an ongoing basis and priorities are shifted based on the threat they pose.

"Some fires are improving, so they become less of a threat and we can focus our resources. Then we prioritize anything from air tankers and helicopters to ground crews to those that will best address the threats that will occur," Roberts said.

"So the ones within proximity of communities are already getting high attention from our staff and our equipment."

Northeastern fires

The community of Southend, in the province's northeast, is one of those with fires in close proximity. It began to evacuate on the weekend because of a nearby cluster of five fires.

Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Chief Karen Bird made the call for Southend to evacuate through a video posted on Facebook on Sunday night. She urged all community members to register at the band office or by calling 306-420-9944.

"Please register even if you refuse to leave the community, or want to go out to the lake to your cabin. We need you to register," she said.

According to Chief Bird, helicopter-assisted convoys left the community Sunday night and Monday morning.

A nearby vacation destination, Nordic Lodge, is also taking precautions. It announced on Monday that because of wildfires, all booked trips are on hold until further notice.

"Our first priority is to make sure that all of our family, guests and our staff is safe, because we can rebook fishing trips and we can rebuild cabins and lodges, but we can't recreate people," said Nordic Lodge co-owner Carla Komarnicki.

Komarnicki said that Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management has helped put up sprinklers at the camp and family members are at the ready with water pumps.

Despite the double setback of the COVID-19 pandemic and now wildfires, Komarnicki said she's confident things will be OK.

"We'll just take it in stride. Sometimes life is what it's supposed to be and we can handle different scenarios and we just have to deal with them," she said.

Air quality affected

Wildfires in the north are also reducing air quality and visibility for people living in those areas.

Environment Canada is advising caution for people living in Hudson Bay, Porcupine Plain, Melfort, Tisdale, Nipawin and Carrot River.

The organization said that children and seniors are especially at risk when it comes to poor air quality, and people may experience symptoms including shortness of breath and headaches.

Information for residents affected by wildfires is available at the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency website.

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