Thousands without power as Sask. wildfire still days away from being controlled

·6 min read
Smoke from the Cloverdale wildfire billows across a grid road northeast of Prince Albert, Sask. Dry conditions and strong winds on Tuesday added fuel to the large wildfire, with more evacuation orders issued Wednesday. (Submitted by Marg Yungworth - image credit)
Smoke from the Cloverdale wildfire billows across a grid road northeast of Prince Albert, Sask. Dry conditions and strong winds on Tuesday added fuel to the large wildfire, with more evacuation orders issued Wednesday. (Submitted by Marg Yungworth - image credit)

Dry conditions and strong winds on Tuesday added fuel to the large Cloverdale wildfire near Prince Albert, Sask.

As of 4:30 p.m. local time Wednesday, the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) reported that the wildfire is approximately 65 per cent contained. However, wind speeds and changing wind direction continue to make the situation challenging.

Residents north of White Star Road are now allowed to return to their homes, according to the SPSA. Previously instated highway road closures remain in effect, as does the Prince Albert state of emergency.

The city, which is about 135 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, said the flames had forced the evacuation of at least 50 homes by late Tuesday afternoon.

An immediate evacuation order was also issued Wednesday by the nearby Rural Municipality of Garden River for the Berg subdivision. A news release says the wildfire is an immediate threat and residents "must start evacuation immediately."

A wildfire north of Prince Albert continues to spread and is now threatening the Berg subdivision in the Rural Municipality of River Garden.
A wildfire north of Prince Albert continues to spread and is now threatening the Berg subdivision in the Rural Municipality of River Garden.(Submitted by Jason Craven)

Steve Roberts, vice-president of operations for the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA),said the evacuation order affected about a dozen acreages.

Residents who can get out on their own are instructed to use Highway 2 South and proceed to the Margo Fournier Centre in Prince Albert.

On Wednesday evening, Prince Albert police issued tickets to two people who were "located unlawfully inside the perimeter at the Cloverdale fire overnight Tuesday."

The area along Highway 55, between Prince Albert and the Pulp Haul Road, has been evacuated due to the fast-moving fire.

The tickets were $2,000 each and issued to a man and a woman who police say they found inside the fire area and who did not live in the area.

"Residents have been evacuated and no one is being allowed to go back into the area at this time for their safety and the safety of first responders working in the area," the police force said on Facebook.

By Wednesday morning, the fire had grown to about 40 square kilometres and was moving east away from Prince Albert.

Roberts said cooler temperatures are helping fire crews battling the wildfire.

Four more crews have arrived to fight the fire on the ground to assist five helicopters, multiple air tanker groups and heavy equipment — alongside the Prince Albert Fire Department and Buckland Fire Department.

Roberts said so far, no homes have been destroyed.

The SPSA has put up 45 evacuees in hotels in Prince Albert and is providing them with food, clothing and other necessities.

Joan Hrycyk, the SPSA's crisis support person, said they will contact evacuees when it is safe to return home.

A City of Prince Albert new release said police are patrolling the area.

About 8,000 without power

SaskPower spokesperson Joel Cherry said about 8,000 customers are still without power, stretching from just north of Prince Albert to La Ronge, which is about 215 kilometres further north.

The rural Montreal Lake Cree Nation, located about 100 kilometres north of Prince Albert, currently has no power and therefore no access to gas, water or fresh food.

In Air Ronge, about 235 kilometres north of Prince Albert, cars waited in long lines all day to get gas. Local resident Tom Roberts said the pumps were running on a generator.

The location of the wildfires burning near Prince Albert.
The location of the wildfires burning near Prince Albert.(CBC News)

Cherry said power has been restored to about 1,000 customers in the rural areas between Spruce Home and Christopher Lake.

And Wednesday morning, crews were cleared to enter the fire zone where 15 power structures had been damaged.

"We need to do ground patrols there to determine the status of the conductor wires," Cherry said. "And there's still potential that fire conditions could change. But if the conductor wire's in decent shape and fire conditions don't impede us, we could potentially have the power restored in a day or so."

Late Wednesday afternoon, SaskPower released a statement saying that the estimated time power will be restored is 2 p.m. Thursday.

SaskPower says conditions have been favourable for workers, and that they are making significant progress toward repairing the damaged transmission line that serves customers north of Prince Albert.

"Once our crews got in there, we're working non-stop until the work is done. We're not going to shut down for the night or anything like that," Cherry told CBC Saskatchewan Wednesday afternoon.

"There's the rotating crews there to make sure people are working within proper fatigue management cycles."

SaskPower crews and contract workers are working on 15 damaged power structures near Prince Albert.
SaskPower crews and contract workers are working on 15 damaged power structures near Prince Albert. (SaskPower)

Lindsay Mazenc, external communications manager at SaskTel, said there are 17 cell sites that are currently running on generators because of the fire.

Some homes spared

While the fire moves northeast and threatens properties on the eastern edge of the fire, some homes closer to Prince Albert appear to have escaped relatively unscathed.

"The fire seems to have missed our place and that of our immediate neighbours," said Harold Fisher, who has a farm along Cloverdale Road northeast of Prince Albert.

He said it was tense watching the smoke creep nearer to his land, but fire crews were able to create a boundary around properties in that area.

"Just before dark, water bombers came over and dumped 20 loads of water kind of in a strip along behind our properties."

Fisher said he was able to quickly check on his property and found the power was back on.

Harold Fisher says his home and the homes of his neighbours appear to have been spared despite the fire edging up to their properties.
Harold Fisher says his home and the homes of his neighbours appear to have been spared despite the fire edging up to their properties.(Submitted by Harold Fisher)

Saskatchewan RCMP say Highway 55 is still closed from Meath Park to Prince Albert in both directions.

RCMP warn the public to avoid all major grid roads between Highways 55 and 355, as they are closed and being used by emergency agencies to transport firefighting equipment and water. Motorists are asked to use the alternate route of Highway 355 West at Meath Park and Highway 2 South.

Residents of the Cecil Ferry area can use the ferry to evacuate the area and access Prince Albert.

The road closures are expected to last until at least Wednesday evening.

Several fire departments are working on the blaze. The province has also sent three water bombers, a helicopter, spotter plane and more firefighters.

The cause of the fire is not known.

Steve Roberts said there are six active fires in the province, three of which are contained.

So far this year there have been 114 fires, which is slightly above the average of 93 fires, he said.

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