Lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB) officials and residents say there’s cause for celebration as dozens of evacuees returned home Saturday.
“I haven’t had a day off since June 6, but I did have a good rest last night because my kids came home,” LLRIB chief Cook-Searson said Saturday.
Residents began to return by car as early as Friday evening after the province lifted the evacuation order for LLRIB, La Ronge and Air Ronge because the Egg Fire no longer posed a direct threat to the rural communities. People on the health priority list, including elders, children under two years of age and pregnant women will be able to return on Monday.
“The community is with the people and it was just so nice to be able to have people come home and being able to open the road block,” Cook-Season said.
There were cheers and hugs from evacuees as they disembarked 12 buses and three passenger vans from Prince Albert, Saskatoon, and Cold Lake at the LLRIB Jonas Roberts Memorial Community Centre Saturday. Volunteers helped unload the luggage which largely consisted of black garbage bags and large plastic containers to carry the few possessions evacuees brought and the donated clothes they received while away.
“As soon as we found out this morning we were going (home) there was a big burst of ‘yippee, hooray,’ and we’re all happy to come home,” evacuee James Eninew said just moments after setting foot on the First Nation for the first time in two weeks.
Originally from Sucker River, which was also given the all clear to return Saturday, Eninew said he is scared to see the damage the fire has wrought.
“I don’t want to see it, but I am going to have to and it’s not going to be a happy sight,” he said, adding he said he is looking forward to returning to a normal life. “Cutting my grass, getting back to normal.”
Dana Brown’s son celebrated a birthday while the family stayed at the Saskatchewan Polytechnic evacuation centre in Prince Albert. Her family left during the general
“I have family in Prince Albert and they made a cake for him so he had two little birthdays,” she said, adding she is relieved to be back. “Just love being home. I can’t wait to lie on my own bed.”
La Ronge Mayor Thomas Sierzycki said it was a great sight to see people returning.
“It wasn’t until we had seen the people come into the community that it really struck home that it was real,” he said.
However for some, the return marked a solemn day. Cook-Searson said two elders who were evacuated died before they could return home.
“Our deepest condolences to the families that are grieving and we will be there to support them,” Cook-Searson said.
Communities assess fire damage
In Wadin Bay, the charred remains of three homes punch burnt holes in the forested community. A satellite dish on a pole, a clay pot, an inuksuk and a melted ATV quad are all that remain at one of the homes. Fire fighters said it’s a miracle more of the approximately 45 cabins in the area were spared. Owners soaked their homes with sprinklers and hoped for the best.
But all along the highway, fire has etched a scar into the landscape. Just north or the Waskesiu turn-off along Highway 2, it’s easy to see why the road was shut down. Fire stretched across the road and burnt trees line both sides of the pavement.
At the airport, blackened trees stand off to the side of the runway while grass has already begun to return green to the surrounding area. Flames crept within meters of the facility’s Omni Directional Radio Range. The device helps guide planes during take off and landing in low visibility situations such as high smoke or bad weather.
Sierzycki said small businesses and the tourism industry have also suffered significant financial lost because of the fires. He said he hopes the removal of the evacuations and fire ban will help tourism recover quickly.
The faint smell of smoke, however, reminds people that the fires aren’t out yet.
Hall Lake is the only community still under an evacuation order as crews push back fires. Rain and manpower have helped reduced the threat to nearly every northern community.
The province lifted the fire ban on provincial land and parks though some local communities still have fire bans in place. Around 200 military personnel left Saturday, while 400 remain.
As of Saturday there were 103 fires. Ten fires were put out between Friday and Saturday mornings while only one new fire was started. Most of the fires are not contained but do not pose threats to communities. Crews are working to put out hotspots in the La Ronge area.
While most evacuees are happy to be home, some are frustrated with the fire fighting efforts. Eninew said as a trained firefighter he would have liked to help.
“There was quite a few of us down there (evacuated to Saskatoon) that are certified fire fighters, very frustrated, very angry, very helpless,” he said.
Issues such as Eninew’s are why Cook-Searson said she wants northern communities to come together and develop a northern fire strategy. She said many communities have learned from the fires and pooling their ideas will likely help them in the future.
“Just coming up with a Saskatchewan plan on how we’re going to move forward. What worked, what didn’t and how we’re going to improve it so that way we don’t have thousands of people displaced from their homes for such a long time,” she said.