Flora Kraus sat in the little community office in Weyakwin Tuesday afternoon organizing how to get returning residents water and access to a landfill.
The administrator for the community could step outside to see the remnants of a house lost to the fire, but she said all-in-all they are very lucky.
“I was here last Wednesday to try to continue payroll especially for our firefighters… I was only here for four hours and within that time my throat was scratching and my eyes were bloodshot and burning , that’s how bad it was still here,” she said. “Now, coming back to the fresh air, you can still smell the smoke, but you don’t see it. You can just tell something burnt, like a campfire.”
Kraus explained that the one house burned to the ground but the community’s landfill and the infrastructure along with it were lost. The mess hall for local firefighters also melted with the flames.
“We had a meeting today, a ‘where do we go from here?’ meeting because our landfill burnt… Our landfill operator doesn’t have a building anymore so we need to get something up there for her,” Kraus said. “We are going to put in some long hard days for a few weeks to get caught up and then life always carries on.”
Kraus herself was evacuated for 18 days and running town operations and information sharing out of a hotel in Prince Albert. She said, especially with photos and rumours being shared online, there were some very tense days.
“People were posting things like ‘Weyakwin is burning’… There was a lot of false information that created a really hard emotional time for people,” she said adding it’s important people get information from the right places.
With that in mind, and her own experience returning a week ago, Kraus said she was worried as she drove up Highway 2 and saw the charred, black trees lining the highway.
“The closer I got the more worried I was that that was what Weyakwin was going to look like,” she said.
“Then when I actually got into the community and saw that our trees are still here. We still have our brush and our lawns and lilac bushes, I was so happy. It was wonderful. Then sleeping in my own bed last night was heaven.”
From the front steps of the Thunder Hill store owner Ben Herman can look at the fires’ legacy burnt into the trees just on the other side of the highway.
“It’s such a beautiful area and now you are going to drive for miles and see just desolation really, that’s the sad part,” he said.
“All the older people are telling me now we are going to have a lot of blueberries and it will be good for moose, maybe there is one bright outlook to that.”
Herman explained he remained in his store until the mandatory evacuation took effect and even returned once when it appeared the situation might turn around.
“Last week, Wednesday, I was in the store at four in the morning. I was running generators and I had to use paper towel with water on it to breathe in here,” he said. “I said ‘that’s enough, why you going to die over a building?’ It doesn’t make sense.”
Although he was worried about thousands of dollars in merchandise that could go bad if power was lost for too long, Herman made his way to Prince Albert where he stayed in a motel for the duration of the evacuation.
“We were just stressed, totally stressed because you don’t know if you are going to have anything to come back to, same with your pets and things like that. And losing income of course, mind you there is no income to be made because all my traffic and income comes off the highway,” he said.
“It was pretty hard, just about driving you nuts. You can’t enjoy anything.”
Luckily, when Herman returned the power had held up in the community and even his ice cream survived the fire.
“They did a good job, really for the conditions they had to work under, my God,” he said. “ It was quite actually a good thing for SaskPower how fast they got things going.”
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