Canada — Hundreds of people who had to leave their homes to escape the thick smoke from forest fires in northern Saskatchewan are being allowed to return over the next few days.
About 700 of the more than 800 people removed from Deschambault Lake were expected to return to their homes in the community Sunday evening, Trish Alcorn of the Saskatchewan Ministry of Social Services told CBC News.
“The conditions are probably the best they’ve been in a few days,” Alcorn said.
But about 1,800 people from other communities are still waiting to find out if they can return to their homes. Alcorn said they are monitoring the situation and the decision to return them will be made by experts at the environment ministry and elected officials in those communities.
Rain on the weekend has helped ease the fire threat in several areas.
Cathy Bulych, with Social Services, told the Canadian Press the thick smoke may still force evacuations in other communities.
“We’re sort of at the point where some communities will begin to be ready to return home and others may actually still have to be required to bring additional individuals out,” said Bulych. “At this time it’s all primarily smoke-related concerns.”
Richard Kent, with the Prince Albert Grand Council, said priority people who were taken out first the elderly and those with respiratory problems and other health ailments will probably be the last ones to return home.
About 400 people were set to leave their homes in the area of Sandy Bay, Sask., on Saturday to escape thick smoke from forest fires. On Friday, 250 people were forced out of Pelican Narrows.
More than 1,000 people have been evacuated from Deschambault Lake since Monday. A huge fire on the outskirts of the community was stopped Friday night after firefighters carried out a controlled burn to starve the fire of fuel.
Although the immediate danger from the flames has been eliminated, officials are worried that drifting smoke from the fire could cause breathing problems for some residents.
Peter Beatty, vice-chief of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, praised firefighting efforts in the area of Deschambault Lake.
“With the conditions that were out there the wind direction and the wind speed and the heat I was very impressed with the expertise of the firefighting personnel.”
Displaced residents have been taking shelter in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert.
As of Saturday, there were 88 forest fires burning across Saskatchewan, including 36 new fires started by lightning strikes Friday. Some of the biggest fires were receiving rain Saturday, including the blaze near Deschambault Lake, which received 31 millimetres, said Saskatchewan Environment spokeswoman Rhonda Michaels.
Nearly 3,000 square kilometres have burned so far, an area about 20 times the size of Saskatoon.