A warm and sunny long weekend forecast has provincial officials worried about new wildfires, as crews continue to battle three out-of-control blazes in northern Saskatchewan.
Hundreds of people from Waterhen First Nation are still under an evacuation order due to the threat of the Tuff wildfire cutting off the community’s only access route, while residents in the communities of Crutwell and Holbein are still being told to be ready to go west of Prince Albert because of the Rally fire.
A third blaze, dubbed the Rabbit fire, burning on the south edge of Prince Albert National Park has also prompted similar warnings for people living in the northern parts of the R.M.s of Shellbrook and Canwood.
“We don’t want people to be out of their home any longer than they need to, but we don’t want them to have to stay in a high-risk situation until we’re comfortable,” said Steve Roberts, executive director of wildfire management.
He noted cooler conditions and a shift in wind direction have helped firefighters establish containment lines for all three of the fires, but they aren’t comfortable saying they are completely contained.
As of Thursday morning, Roberts said the Rally fire west of Prince Albert was still about three times the size of Martensville, with a total area of around 2,100 hectares. Winds were starting to push the blaze away from Crutwell and Holbein.
He said some crews were positioned on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River to deal with any sparks flying across the water. A perimeter map of the fire shows some activity on the south side, encroaching on the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation community of Kiskaciwan.
The province confirmed Wednesday 13 families from the First Nation had left their homes due to fire concerns.
Officials from Prince Albert National Park said the Rabbit fire had started as a prescribed burn, but high winds pushed it out of control. As of Thursday morning it had burned 16,900 hectares —an area roughly the size of Weyburn — on the south edge of the park and just beyond its borders.
Firefighters had contained the southwestern flank of the blaze Thursday, along with a total of 30 per cent of the fire’s perimeter. The fire was 40 kilometres away from the Waskesiu townsite, and officials said it didn’t pose any danger to park infrastructure.
They added crews were working to put out hotspots on the south side of the fire, just beyond the park’s boundaries.
Some concern was noted for weather conditions on Saturday, when winds are expected to shift alongside a return to warmer temperatures. However, there was minimal concern of the fire spreading to residential areas.
Roberts noted there is concern over continuing dry conditions throughout the province.
“Even though we had a sprinkle of rain or it seems a little cooler, a fire ban is still in place because we’re still trying to tell people it’s extremely volatile conditions and they need to be careful,” he said.
He said people need to think about their activities over the long weekend, and consider how they could spark a fire.
“Quadding, hiking in the forest, think about what you’re doing and the equipment you’re using,” he said.
Roberts also pointed to fireworks as a potential ignition source.
“People say it’d be great to have fireworks, but they end up somewhere. Some sparks and some hot fireworks will end up in some dry grass somewhere.”
The provincial fire ban issued earlier in the week is expected be in effect all weekend, restricting firepits and any open flame south of the Churchill River.
—With files from 980 CJME’s Britton Gray and Global Saskatoon.