Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan, Canada — A fast-moving forest fire fuelled by hot, dry winds was bearing down on two remote communities in northern Saskatchewan, forcing more than 200 people to flee their homes.
RCMP Sgt. Carole Raymond said as of Sunday evening, the fire was less than three kilometres from Stony Rapids and Stony Lake, which are fly-in communities near the boundary with the Northwest Territories.
It’s the second time this month that people in the area had to leave their homes due to a forest fire.
Prisoners from the local RCMP detachment and most of the elderly and those with health problems were flown out, and some residents drove to Black Lake, about 90 minutes southeast, Raymond said.
But the road ends there, and the only way to get out of Black Lake is to fly.
By Sunday night, officials were expecting more than 200 people would be in Prince Albert, Sask., more than 800 kilometres south of their homes.
RCMP started going door-to-door early Sunday afternoon telling residents to gather their pets and belongings when the fire was just six kilometres east of town.
Judy Orthner, director of communications for the Ministry of Corrections, Public Safety and Policing, said 200 people were being flown to Prince Albert, Sask., and will be housed at the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology campus.
“It’s a large campus and there will be dormitory space there because fortunately all the students are home for summer vacation,” Orthner said.
She said there will be medical assessments done on people and they will transported to medical facilities if necessary.
Val Nicholson, communications consultant with the Saskatchewan Ministry of the Environment, said firefighters and water tankers from the Northwest Territories came Sunday to help out.
Fire crews were also using foam and retardant at the west side of the Stony Rapids to try to stop the fire’s progress.
However, hot, dry weather wasn’t helping, and the forecast for the next few days was for more of the same.
“They had no precipitation to speak of for some time and temperatures are quite high and we’re dealing with a pretty strong sustained wind from the west, all of which are making it pretty difficult.
“The conditions are pretty challenging.”
Fire crews were also setting up sprinklers on homes and buildings and using heavy equipment to cut fire lines to try to save the communities, Nicholson said.
“We’re all hoping.”
Earlier this month, about 70 elderly and sick people were moved out of the communities as a precaution due to smoke from a forest fire.
The Ritchie fire has burned about 400 square kilometres of land. Nicholson said the fire now threatening the communities is part of the Ritchie fire.
“What happened a couple of days ago a fire from the original fire spotted about 20 kilometres west of the community of Stony Rapids, and we actioned that immediately, but with the little rain and the dry conditions that we have up there it’s been very difficult.”