Wildfire smoke triggers air quality statement in northern Sask., closes highway

·3 min read
Smoke fills the sky behind a church in Stanley Mission. (Tim Roberts - image credit)
Smoke fills the sky behind a church in Stanley Mission. (Tim Roberts - image credit)

Wildfire smoke is causing poor air quality and reducing visibility over portions of Saskatchewan's north.

On its website, Environment and Climate Change Canada said a plume of smoke from a forest fire northeast of La Ronge was continuing to create locally poor air quality, and advised people with breathing difficulties to stay inside.

Chief Tammy Cook-Searson of Lac LaRonge Indian Band says the fire burst open around 3:30 P.M on Friday. On early Saturday evening the ECCC triggered a special air quality statement for La Ronge, Montreal Lake and Pinehouse, Saskatchewan.

The smoke was also impacting Candle Lake, Narrow Hills Provincial Parks and Prince Albert National Park Saturday night, but the advisory for those areas was lifted early Sunday morning.

Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency
Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency

Cook-Searson says the fire is located approximately 2.9 kilometres southwest of the community of Stanley Mission, and the weather isn't helping their fight.

"It grew very quickly because of the the high winds and the dry conditions," she said.

She said the fire is getting really close to Stanley Mission. As of Sunday, the wind subsided and Cook-Searson said it's helping contain the fire.

Councilor Jimmy Charles
Councilor Jimmy Charles

The fire previously had prompted the closure of the highway into Stanley Mission Saturday night, but it re-opened Sunday.

Cook-Searson says the fire jumped the highway Saturday.

"You can still see open flame and smoke today," she said. Even though the highway has re-opened, Cook-Searson said it could still be closed today.

The Lac La Ronge Indian Band says more firefighters are expected today, and they will continue to work to protect cabins in the area.

Maurice Ratt, the Lac La Ronge emergency response officer, said more equipment will arrive sometime Sunday, along with an incident command team.

Crews will continue to work on the fire lines and air support will continue to cool fire lines down, Ratt said. They will also create a fire retardant line in the area.

Gordon Hardlotte
Gordon Hardlotte

Local fire crews from La Ronge and Sucker River were also helping.

"There is no threat to the community of the fire," as of Sunday, Ratt said.

Fire bans, however, are in place in Stanley Mission, Sucker River, Grandmother's Bay and Hall Lake, effectively immediately, Ratt said.

Cook-Searson said the response has been swift and fire crews have even been brought in from Manitoba to help battle the blaze.

Light wind is expected for the next several days, according to ECCC, but rain is not in the forecast for the area until the end of the week.

Cook-Searson said vulnerable community members have been alerted to prepare for a possible evacuation, including about 650 people in priority groups.

"So we're going to start we're going to put a notice out ... just letting people know this, to be ready just in case."

CBC News/WSI
CBC News/WSI

Right now, Cook-Searson says as long as the wind stays in their favour they should be able to avoid evacuation.

When air quality is poor, individuals may experience symptoms such as increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath. Children, seniors, and those with cardiovascular or lung disease, such as asthma, are especially at risk according to ECCC.

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