Fire damage could be seen throughout the trees along the road leading to the Montreal Lake Cree Nation.
On Monday, a roadblock was still in place a few kilometres from the community and an evacuation remained in place.
Speaking at the barricade, Chief Edward Henderson said he’s been given good news at a morning meeting with authorities.
Hundreds of additional personnel brought in to help firefighting efforts in the area appeared to have turned the tide. Henderson said band members could be coming home by Thursday or Friday.
But while he was elated at the prospect of an end to the waiting, Henderson said he is saddened by the destruction of six homes. The loss leaves about 40 people without a roof to come back to.
“That’s what we’re going to be concentrating on as soon as we get back. Where we’re going to put them and how we’re going to rebuild their houses,” he said.
With many in the band still living off the land, Henderson said the community has historically avoided felling trees. He acknowledged this added to problems when fire hit. He said now, many prized trees have had to be cleared to get proper fireguards in place.
“When our people come back, they’re going to come back to a totally different community,” he said.
Henderson said he worries about the trauma the evacuation and loss of homes may have caused for people. He said he’s been in touch with the Prince Albert tribal council, they’ll be bringing in counsellors to help people once they return.
Henderson praised the contributions from community members and countless others who came from outside to help, including soldiers and firefighters. He mentioned one band member who kept tirelessly fighting to save buildings, even after his own home was destroyed.
Henderson also lauded the efforts of a pilot staying in the community, who helped save as many as five homes using a garden hose and bucket when flames threatened.
The chief also had a message for community members still evacuated:
“I want to thank them for understanding and being patient over the last three weeks,” he said.
In the longer term, Henderson said he hopes to sit down with government after the wildfire situation is laid to rest across the province.
“The most frustrating thing in the last couple weeks is not being able to help. We had the fire crews here, ready to go, But we couldn’t go because they needed to be certified. I think some of the bureaucracy needs to be dealt with at a later date. But you know, we were standing here feeling helpless as we watched our community burn,” he said.
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