Saskatchewan forest fires force 13,000 from homes
Biggest exodus of its kind ever in Saskatchewan, Red Cross says
CBC News, July 06, 2015
More than 13,000 people have been forced from their homes due to northern Saskatchewan forest fires, in what is being called the biggest-ever wildfire evacuation in the province.
There are 112 fires burning in the province Monday, the Saskatchewan Environment Ministry says.
On the weekend, as forest fires crept closer to inhabited areas, a general evacuation for the La Ronge area was ordered.
That affects close to 8,000 people and is in addition to the more than 5,000 who were taken to emergency shelters in Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert and other centres earlier last week.
“This is absolutely the biggest evacuation we’ve experienced in Saskatchewan,” Red Cross spokeswoman Cindy Fuchs told reporters on Sunday.
More than 600 firefighters were battling fires last week, and it was announced on the weekend that 1,000 more from the Canadian Forces would be put to work in the La Ronge area.
Hot weather, dry conditions and lightning strikes have combined to create the worst time for forest fires in many years.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Tammy Cook-Searson, chief of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band. “We’ve had to evacuate all six of our communities.”
Only emergency services remain in the town and area, about 380 kilometres north of Saskatoon, she said in an interview with CBC News on Monday.
Fire was approaching La Ronge from two sides on the weekend. Five fire departments are in the town, but resources are stretched to the limit.
“They are trying their best,” Cook-Searson said. “There are so many wildfires right now.”
On Monday, the provincial government said more than 7,000 evacuees have registered with the provincial government, with many of them living in emergency shelters. Many more haven’t registered but left their communities and are staying with family and friends.
About a dozen structures, including homes, have burned. No one has been seriously injured.
Fire officials said they’ve seen slightly improved weather conditions over the past day around La Ronge, with winds shifting in a favourable direction.
Forest fire on edge of Saskatchewan town: ‘The fire is in the airport and is moving’
The town of La Ronge is at risk of being taken over by a fast moving forest fire Sunday in northern Saskatchewan, which caused the mass evacuation of over 7,000 people the day before.
The fire has reached the airport on the edge of town said Chief Tammy Cook-Searson of Lac La Ronge Indian Band Sunday.
“The fire is in the airport and is moving,” said Cook-Searson. “The forecasted weather is not in our favour today (Sunday).”
It reached the airport Saturday night. Firefighters remained trying to stop the growing fire.
Officials restricted access to the town Saturday, but APTN arrived just before the highway was closed about the time the fire was just several kilometres from town.
The restricted zone is made up of three communities – Lac La Ronge Indian Band, Air Ronge and La Ronge – all made the call for an evacuation.
At about 3 p.m. Saturday, nearly every gas station was backed-up with a long line of vehicles trying to leave the area.
Many residents had their own transportation, but those who required extra support were urged to meet at the Jonas Roberts Memorial Community Centre, where they could register for a bus taking stranded residents to safety.
The scene was chaotic at times.
Members of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band rushed through the smoky parking lot carrying backpacks, water bottles, diapers, laptops and even gaming systems.
Mothers held their children close so they wouldn’t get lost in the crowd, many were crying because of the panic and confusion.
A mother named Susan adjusted the mask on her youngest daughter’s face.
“We’re just, I don’t know, feeling lost,” said the concerned mother of three. “This is our first time, my first time. Never had something like this happen before.”
Susan had on a brave face for her three daughters. But some evacuees couldn’t contain their fear.
“I’m really shaken up,” said Anthony, after getting off the phone with his sister to let her know he was safe.
Anthony didn’t know where he was going, and wasn’t the only one.
A woman named Adele was pacing the parking lot.
“Well, I’m lucky. I have a friend (to stay with) in Saskatoon,” she said. “I don’t think it really hit me yet. The whole thing is just… unreal.”
Cook-Searson said Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina are completely full with evacuees from further north.
As of Saturday morning, prior to the La Ronge evacuation, there were already 5,588 people displaced from their homes.
Those from Lac La Ronge Indian Band, who don’t have friends or relatives to stay with in the nearby cities, were being sent to Cold Lake, Alberta where they will receive support from the Canadian Forces and the Red Cross.
Many evacuees were distraught Saturday afternoon over rumours that the fire was only three kilometres outside the airport.
An RCMP officer APTN spoke to could only said at the moment: “Everyone will be safe. There’s lots of time.”
The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations have declared a state of emergency for the region and are calling on the Federal Government to help battle the flames, and support the community.