Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada — Thanks to a weekend of cloudy weather and scattered showers, the last of more than 2,200 people evacuated last week from northern communities threatened by forest fires have gone home.
“No communities are directly threatened by fire at this time, and the province has now begun to release resources from outside of the province,” said Steve Roberts, executive director of fire management and forest protection for Saskatchewan Environment, told reporters in a conference call Monday morning.
“We have released aircraft back to Ontario, Quebec and the Northwest Territories, as our aerial resources are refreshed and fully available for fire activity.”
Emergency operations centres set up in La Ronge, Beauval and Prince Albert to coordinate evacuations last week from Beauval, Grandmother’s Bay, Stanley Mission, Sucker River, Missinipe, Wadin Bay and Hall Lake were in the process of shutting down after the last outstanding evacuation orders for Nemeiben Bay and English Bay were lifted.
“The majority of (evacuees) returned home last night, and there are a few who were returning this morning,” Prince Albert Grand Council emergency and protective services commissioner Richard Kent said Monday. “I think there were under 10 that we had left to get home, and those were some people with health risks that we had to transport in special vehicles.”
Highway 102 from the La Ronge airport to McLennan Lake and Highway 915, which provides access to Stanley Mission, Nemeiben, English Bay, Wadin Bay and Grandmother’s Bay, were both reopened — with warnings against unnecessary public travel.
“I’d like to advise motorists that there is still equipment operating in the area and there will be flag people in attendance from time to time, so we ask motorists to watch for those,” said Saskatchewan Highways spokesman Doug Wakabayashi.
“People should be aware that fire behaviour can change, so even though the roads are open right now people should be aware that that could change very quickly.”
The PAGC wants to thank all the government agencies and volunteers who made the lives of people in northern communities a priority when the fire threat closed in, Kent said.
“We pulled together in a pretty tight-knit group, I think. Our operations centre had our last briefing this morning and we’re going to try to get a little bit of rest, but depending on what happens, we may have to activate these operations centres again, and we are prepared to do so if need be.”
Some 1,450 people are braving the heat and smoke to actively fight wildfires in the province, using a fleet of 49 helicopters, 13 tanker planes, 17 bulldozers and 18 heavy all terrain vehicles.
With the forecast calling for continued cool temperatures, showers and higher humidy over the next few days, firefighters hope to keep making the progress they achieved over the weekend, Roberts said.
“We still have potential for some holdover lightning to start up as conditions dry a little bit after the rain showers we had.”
As of Monday there were 105 wildfires burning in Saskatchewan’s “full response zone” — areas around communities and swaths of forest with high commercial timber value — 29 of which were out of control. Four were extinguished overnight Sunday, and no new blazes had sprung up as of Monday morning.
To date, Saskatchewan has recorded 391 forest fires in 2006, slightly higher than the 10-year average of 362. By this time last year, there were only 208 wildfires burning in the province.