By: Glenn Hicks
It’s the news Pelican Narrows residents have been waiting for.
An evacuation order issued August 29 was rescinded Wednesday afternoon and many of the 2,700 evacuees in Prince Albert and Saskatoon were to return home immediately.
Steve Roberts with Wildfire Management said a combination of factors prompted the recommendation to allow people to go back.
“Our focus was on the areas around the critical infrastructure and communities,” Roberts said in a media call Wednesday.
“We believe that work has paid off and we’re comfortable with the security. In addition to that, we‘re not seeing precipitation, but we are seeing daytime highs only in the teens and overnight temperatures in the single digits, so that’s helping us get a handle on the fires as well.”
The lifting of the evacuation order covers all General Community Members and those who do not suffer from chronic heart or respiratory issues. Those with health issues, pregnant women and infants were not among those expected to return home immediately.
Ray Unrau, Deputy Commissioner of Fire Safety, listed four key elements they considered before recommending the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation lift the order:
“A lack of direct fire threat to the access in and out of the community, lack of fire threat to the community itself or infrastructure, air quality is within acceptable limits, and critical services will be in the community when people arrive,” Unrau said.
The first returning evacuees – those who fled in private vehicles – were expected to reach Pelican Narrows Wednesday night under police escort. Those who left the community by bus would return by bus Thursday.
Unrau made it clear smoke was still an issue for the community and others in the region.
“We have air scrubbers which will provide clean air in Pelican Narrows, Sandy Bay and Deschambault Lake,” he said.
While the flank of the wildfire closest to Pelican Narrows is now secure, that is not the case for the fire burning close to Jan Lake and Birch Portage. Those communities remain under an evacuation order.
‘It’s just as much work to get people back to the community:’ Chief
By: Bryan Eneas
With evacuees packing their bags to head back to Pelican Narrows, officials from the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation said there is still much work to be done.
Chief Peter A. Beatty said he felt good about lifting the general evacuation order, but acknowledged the volume of work ahead.
“It was a lot of work to do the evacuation itself, and then to do this one, it’s just as much work to get people back to the community,” Beatty said. “Making sure everyone travels safe and makes it home safe, and ensuring everyone has what they need in terms of fuel and food to get home.”
Beatty said the focus now shifts to ensuring the supply chain of food to the community stays intact. Highway 106 to Creighton and Flin Flon is still closed to general traffic and convoys are being used to escort people along that route.
The chief said the Cree Nation has been working closely with RCMP and security teams throughout the evacuation to ensure property is kept safe. He said a 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew implemented during the evacuation would stay in place for now.
“The curfew will continue until all people are back in their own homes,” Beatty said.
Beatty said students registered in Pelican Narrows would be back in class next week. He said additional weeks will be tacked on to the end of the school year to make up for time lost due to the evacuation.
“That will work itself out so the students aren’t affected that much,” Beatty said.