Sask. lifts provincial fire ban as wildfires roughly double five-year average

·2 min read

Saskatchewan is lifting its provincial fire ban as cooler temperatures and recent rains tamp down the risk of sparking wildfires.

The ban was put in place on July 2 and applied to northern Saskatchewan, Crown lands and provincial parks. This season's 424 recorded fires to date roughly doubles the five-year average of 214, said Steve Roberts, the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency's vice-president of operations.

"It's obviously a record year," he said.

The number of fires even dwarfs the numbers seen in past years, although current numbers don't match the scope and size of fires in the devastating 2015 season.

The numbers have also changed the province's firefighting strategy, pushing it to spread more crews over more fires, Roberts said.

The province has hired about 150 local firefighters to help in those efforts, he noted.

A Monday morning air advisory from Environment Canada also warned that smoke blowing south will continue to affect air quality in central and northern Saskatchewan.

Residents of one of the communities struggling with smoke, Shoal Lake Cree Nation, had to recently leave home with the help of the Prince Albert Grand Council and the Canadian Red Cross, Chief Marcel Head said.

More than 300 band members left on Friday and Saturday as air quality worsened and threatened elderly residents and people with respiratory problems, he said.

He expressed concern about a lack of resources being directed to a fire south of the community, which is about 100 kilometres east of Nipawin.

The band members sheltered in Regina due to the high demand other evacuations have placed on facilities closer to home in cities like Prince Albert and Saskatoon, he added.

As air quality improves and resources return to fight the fire south of the community, Head said he hopes to return early this week.

Other communities forced to recently evacuate include Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation's community of Southend in the northeast, and residents of Buffalo River Dene Nation, Michel Village and St. George's Hill in the northwest.

In a social media update on Friday, Lac La Ronge Indian Band emergency response coordinator Maurice Ratt advised that the band has lifted its voluntary evacuation of Grandmother's Bay, which saw about 140 residents leave the community.

Roberts said teams have made headway on other fires, like containing a blaze near Whelan Bay that also forced an evacuation. A fire that threatened Beauval has also stopped growing, he said.

Of about 161 fires currently burning, there are roughly 11 fires as of Monday that are threats to communities or highways, he said.

While weekend lightning lit more fires, higher humidity and cooler temperatures offered some relief and "some fires did indeed receive direct precipitation," Roberts added.

Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix

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