As thousands of evacuees move back home to their northern communities, the Canadian Forces are pulling away from the front lines of the fire.
During the peak of the wildfires there were 850 Canadian soldiers working to protect communities and homes threatened by the blaze. Among hundreds of regular military servicemen and women, there were 68 Saskatchewan reservists who were able to answer the call in their own province. Reservists train and work for the military part time while maintaining full-time civilian jobs.
Captain Mitch Mercier is a reservist with the Royal Regina Rifles. When he got the call about deploying to the north, he first had to get permission to take a week off from his regular job as an RCMP instructor at Depot Division.
After a crash course in fighting fires in Prince Albert, Mercier was sent to La Ronge.
“Most of the learning happened out in the forest with the professional fire fighters out there. They assisted us, showed us how to use and operate the tools out there,” he said.
Mercier said he had never seen an active forest fire that close before. What surprised him was how the fire would move along the ground like a snake.
“The best way I could describe it is that you have a house with a carpet and part of the carpet is burnt and on fire and the other part of the carpet is clean and pristine and the line is moving towards the clean carpet in a serpentine-esque kind of way,” he said.
Mercier explained that the soldiers had to put out hot spots along the ground and underbrush.
“A really active fire moves through the trees but the stuff we were dealing with was the fire that moves on the ground as it goes along,” he said. “In the middle of the day, there was all these little spot fires we would have to go and put out.”
Mercier spent eight days working in a unit with the Saskatchewan reservists. They were long days, but even before he left Regina, he knew exactly how important it was.
He remembers seeing the people outside the Evraz Place evacuation centre right next door to the Regina Armoury.
“I drove by and there was a young father with his child in a stroller and they were outside in the Brandt parking lot with nothing to do,” he said. “I just thought, well if I can help out in any way and get these guys back home in any way I should.”
He was part of a massive effort by the military along with professional and volunteer fire fighters battling a force that threatened the homes of thousands of people.
As of Monday, there were 98 fires still burning and 1,000 firefighters still battling the blaze.