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Wildfire situation: 23 active fires, challenging conditions

SPSA provides its latest update Tuesday, May 23 on the fire situation in northern Saskatchewan and the status of evacuations.
danger wildfire fire
Saskatchewan is still battling wildfires in northern Saskatchewan.

REGINA - Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency has provided its latest update on the continued challenging wildfire situation in northern Saskatchewan. 

According to Marlo Pritchard, SPSA President and Fire Commissioner, there are 23 active fires burning in the province as of 10 a.m. that morning. There have been 183 active fires to date, which is ahead of their five year average of 106.

Of the active fires, 12 are undergoing ongoing assessment, three are classified as contained, three are classified as protecting property and five are not contained.

Prichard reminded people to take extreme caution, especially “when, on or near dry grass," in operating all-terrain vehicles, using tools or disposing of smoking material.

He said special air quality statements remain in effect through parts of northern and central Saskatchewan and the SPSA has deployed air scrubbers to numerous communities affected by wildfires; these devices will allow those communities to shelter safely in place.

There are highway closures to Highway 910 from 165 to Besnard Lake, and Highway 911 from 106 to Deschambault Lake.

At both locations, signage has been set up by the Ministry of Highways and the ministry is staffing those barricades.

SBSA are continuing to monitor assess the resources needed to manage the existing fires, said Pritchard in his call with reporters Tuesday morning. The wildfires of note include the following:

The Vermette fire is currently 65,547 hectares in size located southwest of Dillon. The nearby communities include Dillon, Saint George’s Hill and Michel Village. Pritchard said it is being resourced by Type One and Type Two firefighters and heavy equipment and air tankers are supporting.

The Shaw Fire is currently 100,729 hectares and located between Buffalo Narrows and Ile-a-la-Crosse. It is also being serviced by Type One and Type Two firefighters and by heavy equipment and air tanker support. Pritchard said some precipitation was received overnight; he also said personnel will be securing the area and powerlines near Highway 925. 

The Smith fire is 129,015 hectares located near Pinehouse. SPSA continues to monitor the fire using detection aircraft and is assessing values that might be threatened.

The Wistigo fire is 56,197 hectares southeast of Pinehouse. Crews are working on the eastern side of the fire. Type One and Type Two firefighters are resourcing the fire along with heavy equipment and helicopters.

The Sharp fire is north of La Ronge and is currently 9,845 hectares. It is being resourced by Type One crews, helicopters and air tankers. Value protection work is continuing to occur in the Nemieben Lake area. 

The KPIR-02 fire is 4,605 hectares south of Deschambault Lake. It is being resource by Type One crews, helicopters and air tankers. Crews are continuing to build fire lines where appropriate and value protection work is taking place on the west side of the channel.

SPSA is continuing to support people who evacuated from their communities with emergency crisis support, which includes clothing, food, shelter, and other services as necessary. The support is being provided in Lloydminister and North Battleford on behalf of the Meadow Lake Tribal Council, with evacuees coming from Dillon, St. George’s, Michel Village, English River and Patuanak.

SPSA is also leading support for 90 evacuees in Regina from Buffalo River and Ile-a-la-Crosse, 165 evacuees in Lloydminster from Buffalo Narrows, and 245 evacuees in North Battleford from Patuanak.

Late last week, there was an announcement of financial support to Northern residents impacted by the power outage from May 14 at 3 p.m. to May 17 at 1:15 a.m. SPSA said anyone with questions can call the wildfire toll free information line at 1-855-559-5502.

Prichard also told reporters that “there is no let it burn policy. The SPSA assesses every wildfire and makes a decision on the best way to manage each one. Our priorities include first and foremost of course is human life, communities, major public infrastructure, commercial forest, and other values.”

He said before taking action on wildfires, SPSA evaluates the size, intensity, and location of the fire; the threat the fire could pose to people, communities and property, the agency’s ability to successfully protect people’s property or community and the resources required to contain, or extinguish the fire; the cost to manage the fire compared to the risk posed by the fire; how safe it is to respond to the fire, and how or if the response will minimize the economic impact. 

The magnitude of a response is not necessarily equated to the wildfires’ distance from community. Instead, officials stressed it is based on the threat posed.

People are also being reminded that travel advisories remain in place for the area of Montreal River, around the area of Besnard Lake, and they also recommend avoiding the area near the Smith fire north of Churchill River due the smoke conditions.

As for how the response was going, SPSA Vice President of Operations Steve Roberts indicated to reporters that the fires were very challenging for firefighters to respond to.

“Generally, these fires are extremely aggressive, because of the spread and conditions and because of the large volume of smoke that they have been generating. That has greatly curtailed some of our activity both to get into these fires and get crews on the ground, but also to assess where we might have risks and threats by these fires,” said Roberts.

He also said that as seen by the intermittent road closures, there has been an impact on local communities both in terms of access points but also on health where they had to have some people with health conditions removed. 

“Smoke is playing a significant role at this time of year on our suppression efforts on these fires.”

Regarding resources, Roberts said so far the only out of province resources they have obtained was the water bombing equipment out of Quebec, which still remains within the province to assist them. 

Regarding the weather outlook, Roberts said they will see precipitation into the province through the southern part of the forest, but it will not cover all of the northern forest part of the province. That will likely touch some of the fires, and then proceed to Central Saskatchewan over the next day and a half. 

Overall, temperatures will drop in those areas where they receive precipitation, and with lower temperatures and higher humidity, “we will be able to make much more significant headway on some of these fires.”

As for when the evacuees might be able to go home, Joan Hrycyk of SPSA did not have an update on that, but did say SPSA continue to provide supports for families including lodging, meals and activities. There were activities planned for families on the weekend, and when the evacuation orders are lifted they will provide for their safe travel back home.