Firefighters and military personnel are watching closely as blazes 27 times the size of Saskatoon continue to plague northern Saskatchewan.
The area only received some scattered showers.
“It’s pretty dramatic out there,” Steve Roberts with the Ministry of Environment, said Monday.
“We had some warm, dry weather (Sunday) with some reasonable winds that actually demonstrated, and we saw some volatile fire behaviour.”
There were 123 individuals who have been getting help from social services that have returned to Grandmother’s Bay. Other residents who self-evacuated are allowed back home.
3 more communities go home
St. George’s Hill, Dillon and Michel Village have been cleared to return home. Their transportation is being organized on Monday.
La Ronge-area fire main concern
Fire crews’ main concern is still the Egg fire near La Ronge, which is currently 5.5 times the size of Saskatoon. The fire is two kilometres northwest of La Ronge and 1.5 kilometres north of La Ronge, according to Mayor Thomas Sierzycki.
The town is still at risk because the fire is immediately adjacent to it.
“These fires we have been working on for a number of days we had at least two of those that became active, required air tanker support to support the ground crews. So when we clear a community… it includes the ability for the fire to flare up and re-threaten the community. That’s why some of these larger fires near communities are taking a little longer before we are comfortable saying they are secure,” Roberts said.
More communities could go home
With the smoke changing directions, the province is anticipating that a handful of communities will be given the go-ahead to return home in the next 24 hours.
“We are now looking at coordinating all of our efforts in terms of identifying communities who may not be under a direct fire threat. Over the weekend we started to target a list of communities that might fit those criteria,” Duane McKay, commissioner of emergency management and fire safety with Government Relations, said.
Social services are currently serving more than 10,140 evacuees. It is estimated that 170 evacuees are using the province’s offer for free camping at various parks. Most of them are receiving food vouchers.
The evacuees are occupying spots that vacant.
McKay said their objective is to secure communities as rapidly as possible to make it safe for them to go home.
“People have been out now for an extended period of time and this obviously creates some concern for them in how long this is going to continue on,” he said.
The province is seeing increased traffic in the Weyakwin area, which is creating some difficulty for fire operations in the area. Until the province issues an all-clear, they are respectively asking people to restrict travel in that area.
“The appearance that the fire operations have slowed down and smoke conditions and fire conditions start to become a bit more normalized, I would caution individuals who would take it upon themselves to move into these particular areas,” McKay said.
There are currently 127 fires burning in the province, seven of those are new from lightning in the last 24 hours. There are 63 fires burning in the La Ronge area.
Altogether, the province has just fewer than 1,500 personnel fighting fires. There are 90 people training in Prince Albert on Monday. They are being supported by 59 helicopters and 20 air tankers.
Roberts said firefighters have had a number of injuries.
“They range from twisted ankles and back injuries and cuts and brusises and so on. We did have one of our rapid response team members received second-degree burns to his forearms. He is off and resting comfortable at home now,” Roberts said.
Firefighters are getting the help from resources from Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Quebec. There are also 59 individuals from the U.S. forest service and a crew from South Dakota.
At least 81 homes or cabins have burned
A total of 81 structures have burned in the province since the start of May.
“We have now sent some crews out… to help evaluate whether any further structures were damaged in recent weeks where we could not obtain access,” Roberts said.
The province is expecting fairly heavy smoke on the west side of the province. An east wind is pushing smoke from La Ronge and adding to the smoke near La Loche and Buffalo Narrows.
“If we get significant wind coming with a cold front, it will dissipate some of the smoke. We have a lot of fire on the landscape… regardless of our weather conditions that is going to produce smoke. So we will always, for the near future, have localized smoke,” Roberts said.
“One of the concerns we have to deal with is some of the larger fires coming from Alberta, depending on wind patterns, we have our smoke issues and we may augment that with smoke that’s coming in from Alberta and that’s been a problem on the west side of the province.”
Highway 2 is now open from Prince Albert to the barricade just south of Air Ronge. There are about 12 highways closed in the province due to fires.
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