The air was filled with smoke as Premier Brad Wall drove into La Ronge to get an update on the raging fires in the province’s north Friday morning.
“They do expect they will be able to get some helicopters in today but earlier … it was just very smokey,” Wall said from the northern community. “So, it’s been a ground game.”
A low-pressure centre and a cold front are entering the province from the north, increasing clouds in the full response zone where most of the communities at risk are located. The weather will bring southwest winds gusting to 30 km/hr which could cause difficulties for fire fighting efforts where it could blow the fire into the community.
“They are hopeful … to use the assets in the air if the smoke clears off … (It’s a) double-edged sword of the wind picking up of course,” Wall said.
“The negative side is pretty obvious but the up side is that maybe it clears out some smoke and again maybe could be more assist to our ground crews from the air.”
Director of wildfire support services with the Ministry of Environment Daryl Jessop said the outlook for Saturday is scattered showers for the central part of the province but the western area of the full response zone is expected to clear up overnight and bring in warm temperatures.
“We still have over 600 personnel out there supported by at least 200 support personnel,” he said, adding the smoke has lessened making fighting from the air an option again.
“We have ground crews that are supported by helicopters and dozers that are working all of these fires at this time. The tankers and skimmer (planes) we will use where we can. There is still areas where the smoke is dense but there are areas where the smoke has dissipated some and we are looking for some tanker action such as at Weyakwin and Montreal Lake.”
As of Friday morning there were 107 active fires with 14 new fires started on Thursday. Fifty-seven of the fires are larger than downtown Saskatoon and 28 fires are not contained.
Jessop said there are 20 communities which continue to be impacted by the larger fires.
Manager of information and emergency services for the Ministry of Social Services Karri Kempf said they are working with 5,198 people who have had to leave their communities. There are 525 in North Battleford; 2,234 in Prince Albert; 1,100 in Saskatoon; 1,103 in Regina; and 236 people are moving from Meadow Lake to Regina. Kemps said they are seeing the numbers fluctuate.
“What’s starting to happen now.. is that evacuees are able to make more friends and family connections so some of them are moving for that reason,” she said. “We have other folks who may by their own choice leave a congregate site and attempt to move closer to their home community and that’s why you will see the big increase in Prince Albert.”
Kempf added they are attempting to move the majority of evacuees to Regina and Saskatoon, Prince Albert is considered at capacity.
“We want to get them to the major centres where we have easy access to health care, easy access to recreation, and begin to bring as many communities together as we can,” she said. “Looking ahead if this goes for another two or three days, weekends are difficult we need to find long term stable (places) for those who have special medical needs.”
At the majority of evacuation areas there are medical staff on site including nurse practitioners and paramedics. In Regina, one evacuee was brought to hospital where she delivered a baby. With many people staying in a small location, Merv Tippe with the Ministry of Health said they have actually had very few health issues.
“Generally they are staying very healthy … There have been the odd fevers that have occurred amongst children,” he said.
The Ministry of Highways and infrastructure said conditions continue to change very rapidly with roads open and closing. They encourage people to check Highway Hotlines and are asking that people do not go north of Beauval or the Prince Albert National Park.
Cool Weather, Wind Rain in the forecast
Expect Saskatchewan’s heat and smoky conditions to flip around as Environment Canada forecasts cooler temperatures, wind and thunderstorms.
“We see a cold front starting to come down from the north and that’ll fire off showers and thundershowers, we’re already seeing them across the province,” said meteorologist Terri Lang. “We’ll see this moving to the western part of the province this afternoon and spreading eastward overnight.”
Saskatoon is expected to see some rain Friday evening and overnight, with the storm system moving to the eastern edge of Saskatchewan over the weekend.
And while wind and will push the rest of the smoke away from centres like Regina and Saskatoon, it’s going to be a mixed blessing for wildfires burning in the northern half of the province.
“It’s going to be sort of a blessing and a curse because when you get thundershowers moving in the rain is good but there’s also lightning that comes with it and wind that comes with it … we’re not expecting huge rain amounts, very spotty but cooler temperatures,” Lang said.
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