Saskatchewan facing 116 active wildfires

first_imgJulien Gignac and Larissa Burnouf APTN National NewsThere are 107 wild fires burning in northern Saskatchewan, according to a provincial report issued Friday.Thursday saw 116 active forest fires across the province, according to a Saskatchewan wildfire management report posted on a provincial website. The report said 51 of the fires had spread across more than 100 hectares.The report said 14 fires have been extinguished, but 12 new fires have since flared up.The fires have so far forced the evacuation of 51 communities, including the Clearwater River Dene Nation. The number of evacuees is estimated to exceed 5,000.There have been 552 fires recorded this season alone, 360 more than all forest fires reported in 2014.Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall had to abandon his flight plans to tour the northern Saskatchewan community of La Ronge earlier this week because of heavy smoke and reduced visibility caused by over 100 wildfires burning in the area.Heavy smoke is not only causing problems for flights into La Ronge, but helicopters and water bombers cannot take off from land or lakes in the community due to the low lying smoke cover. Highways and roads in the region north of Prince Albert are also closed due to reduced visibility from heavy smoke and wildfires jumping the highways and fresh burns igniting constantly.Weather forecasts also predict very little rain in coming days.General and high risk evacuation orders have been issued for dozens of northern Saskatchewan communities, with more than 4,600 evacuees registered throughout La Ronge, Weyakwin and La Loche fire areas earlier this week.Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson believes those numbers could be substantially higher.“Hundreds of families have fled the heavy smoke to stay with family and friends in southern communities.  Many haven’t reported to the evacuation centers or the Red Cross,” she said.Cook-Searson said more than 2,000 evacuees from her region have been sent to Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina, with more evacuations being made throughout the day.The communities of Grandmother’s Bay and Sucker River are under general evacuation and only essential services workers, fire crews and a handful of volunteers stayed behind.In La Ronge, the surrounding reserves, Hall Lake and Little Red River reserves, all have high risk evacuation orders issued.Northern highway stretches have been cordoned off due to unpredictable fires.South of La Ronge on Highway 2, a portion of the road has been closed due to fire and heavy smoke.The communities of Montreal Lake Cree Nation and Weyakwin have been evacuated.Councillor Darryl Naytowhow said the fire in the vicinity of his community is “estimated at 300 hectares and still not contained.”He said the “fire went through the community but with great effort, no houses were burned.”He said 906 people were evacuated from both communities and more were being sent to shelters in Regina, as the shelters in Prince Albert and Saskatoon were already full.Donations are greatly appreciated for his community members as “many left in such a hurry that they forgot many essential items,” said Naytowhow.La Loche Mayor Georgina Jolibois said her community is working in collaboration with the Clearwater River Dene Nation and surrounding communities including Garson Lake and Ducharme Lake.Jolibois said there are four fires surrounding her community.She said 2,569 people have registered for evacuation, but 1,500 to 1,700 people have been sent south to Prince Albert and Saskatoon so far, with more convoys being coordinated.The communities of Ile-a-la-Crosse, Beauval, Pinehouse Lake and other surrounding northern villages have begun with high risk evacuations as the heavy smoke continues to move south.A fire ban has been implemented since June 26. The ban targets all northern provincial parks and recreation sites until the situation improves.An air quality statement produced by Environment Canada on Friday says to expect “widespread smoke across all of Saskatchewan.”Large amounts of smoke may cause health risks, particularly when it is close to ground, said Environment Canada.Saskatoon also registered high risk for air pollution, according to Environment Canada’s Air Quality Health Index.jgignac@aptn.calburnouf@aptn.calast_img read more