Back home, returning residents of La Ronge were out and about reacquainting themselves with their town after being forced out 17 days ago.
From what was virtually a ghost town for two weeks is now bustling with young families hanging out at the beach and taking a dip in the lake while kids laugh and play in the park.
It’s a refreshing sight for deputy chief Rob Pacey with the La Ronge regional fire department, who recalls seeing no one except essential service personnel in town during the evacuation order.
“Being born and raised in La Ronge – going to work at 7 a.m. and not seeing anyone, driving around, doing patrols and stuff and not being able to see the neighbours, it was different. There was nobody around, just the people you work with and the people at the emergency operations centre and it was the same people,” Pacey said.
Pacey led the firefighting effort when the flames crept closer to the La Ronge airport. Working with his department as well as communicating with water bombers and helicopters overhead, the efforts were focused on protecting the town; and with almost everyone back in their homes, he’s grateful for all the help.
“Words cannot describe how grateful I am for all the people that came out to help us out,” Pacey said.
“I’ve never seen something like this, the last big fire we had was in 1999 and I was still in elementary school so other than your day-to-day bush fires this is by far large scale.”
Volunteers loading a bus heading to Stanley Mission from La Ronge on July 20, 2015.
Over at the town office, chief administrator Victoria MacDonald welcomed back some of her co-workers on Monday as she was one of the select few who stayed behind while the rest were evacuated.
“When the leadership decided to implement a local state of emergency, my role changed from the chief administrator to the role of coordinating the emergency operations centre side-by-side with the emergency measures coordinator,” MacDonald said.
The town fire hall served as the first operations centre, but the fire started threatening the town, they moved the operations centre to Air Ronge just in case.
And while fear and uncertainty ran through her bones, having around 400 military personnel on hand to help tamed her anxious feelings.
“Looking at the fire maps as they were approaching, it’s pretty obvious how serious it is and when the military is called in it does reinforce that,” MacDonald said.
“There were some anxious moments, but knowing and hearing the helicopters that were the best sound you could hear, the support was overall reassuring.”
Now as the town of La Ronge hopes to resume business as usual, MacDonald said they’re lucky to come home to a town unscathed by the fires, because close communities just north weren’t so fortunate.
“We’re very lucky that the efforts kept the fires away from the town so people can come back to a relatively normal situation. We’re happy people could come home and the fire season isn’t over yet,” she said.
At the J.R. Hall in Air Ronge, a group of drivers waited for the remaining La Ronge evacuees to return. Coming from evacuation centres in southern Saskatchewan, drivers waited into the night for people to come back. Many were evacuees as one time, but they wouldn’t rest until they knew everyone was home. A group from Stanley Mission staying in Air Ronge was transported home on Monday.
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