Roughly 400,000 hectares (4,000 square kilometres) of land, or approximately three times the size of New York City, has been affected by Saskatchewan wildfire.
That does not include the observation zone in remote areas, where wildfires are burning freely without any firefighting efforts. Fire crews are fighting 113 active fires as of Tuesday, six of which are new in the past 24 hours. There have been 54 communities that are either partially or fully evacuated in northern Saskatchewan.
La Ronge Mayor Thomas Sierzycki said a fire threatening his community is just over one kilometre away. More fire departments and a sky crane have come to ward off the flames from the Egg fire, which is the province’s biggest concern.
The fire was 1.5 kilometres north of La Ronge as of 10 a.m. on Tuesday. The town continues to be a ghost town with only essential services in operation.
“Egg Fire north of La Ronge continues to be stable north of the townsite of La Ronge. Our crews are working with bulldozers, helicopters, ground crews, and sprinkler systems to control that northern flank. There are structural fire department crews that will work within the town boundaries to support them should there be any spot fire activity,” Steve Roberts with the Ministry of Environment said.
Meanwhile, 450 soldiers are on the ground taking training in Prince Albert.
“Through an aggressive training program we trained military personel through the night and we will have, for Wednesday morning deployment, approximately 330 line fire fighters who will be assigned direct firefighting tasks from the military on our highest priority fires,” Roberts said.
The province is also training residents of Saskatchewan who come forward and have the skills and wish to be deployed, or are interested in fighting.
McKay said the province has been working closely with Chief Tammy Cook-Searson to locate individuals to volunteer.
“We will be looking at providing training and help to augment the fire operations over a long period of time. Even once the threats have been reduced around these communities, it has been an extraordinary year for fires in the province… I’m sure there will be a need for these firefighters,” McKay said.
About a dozen armoured vehicles left Prince Albert Tuesday morning to make their way up north. A small crowd gathered to see them off, some waving Canadian flags.
Lorna Bennet brought a small group of seniors from the Herb Bassett Care Home in Prince Albert.
“We got together our residents to show our Canadian pride not just for today and for everything but this is an activity that you won’t see very often around here,” Bennet said. Several people who came to see the soldiers off said they had family who had been evacuated and wanted to thank the military for helping save the north.
CH54B is the largest firefighting helicopter in North America. It is now in La Ronge to help with the firefighting efforts.
Courtesy Government of Saskatchewan.
The La Ronge-based owner explicitly made the unit available for the province for firefighting efforts.
“They transported it at their own expense to Saskatchewan from Montana,” Roberts said.
There are currently 7,320 evacuees in registered care and receiving services. Prince Albert is housing the most evacuees (2,764), followed by Saskatoon (2,761), Regina (826), Cold Lake (684) and North Battleford (385).
While some evacuees in Cold Lake were complaining about a lack of resources from the Red Cross on Monday, Karri Kempf with the Ministry of Social Services said it was just a hiccup.
“When you start up a facility, there are always things that take a day or two to get going,” she said.
“That community, it’s their first time working with us … Nobody has been without meals or blankets or any of those things. It’s just had to be on a rotational basis until the entire facility was operational.”
Evacuees are not heading back as conditions in the north are still fairly dire in terms of smoke and the threat of fire.
The good news is that most of the fires burning in the province have been stable for the last 24 hours and have not grown. There have not been any more structure losses in the past day. So far, there have been 12 homes or cabins lost.
While the situation in La Loche is fairly stable, Roberts said the Senec fire is the size of Calgary (850 square kilometres) and is approximately two kilometres from Pinehouse Lake.
“It is a concern for us to hold that fire stable,” Roberts said.
The fire is burning power polls and fiber, which is affecting power service to some communities.
“In the last few days we have seen a few pieces of critical infrastructure damaged,” Duane McKay, commisioner of emergency management and fire safety said adding SaskPower, Sasktel, and SaskEnergy are quickly responding.
There is approximately three kilometres of power lines that need to be rebuilt and restored before Pinehouse Lake can get its power back.
“Once the danger is passed they will restore those as quickly as possible,” McKay said.
SaskEnergy has been shutting down its natural gas systems and purging them as the gas can post a threat in terms of uncontrolled releases.
The Ministry of Environment is expecting a slightly cooler weather system, which should mean more progress on the fire lines.
“Significant rainfall over many days is what would be required to significantly change the behaviour and the long term process on these fires,” Roberts said.
The Eli fire which is a threat to Wadin Bay, English Bay and Sucker River is not contained. Crews are working around and within the Montreal Lake fire to secure the area. No fire losses have occurred after seven homes/cabins were lost earlier this week. The same is true for the fire near Ramsey Bay and Weyakwin.
-with files from News Talk Radio’s Kelly Malone and paNOW’s Nigel Maxwell
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