Forest fire evacuees keeping Saskatoon police busy

Forest fire evacuees keeping Saskatoon police busy

03 June 2011

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Canada — Saskatoon police responded to more than 30 calls and made more than a dozen arrests Thursday night around the three locations in the city where hundreds of forest fire evacuees from Wollaston Lake in northern Saskatchewan are temporarily staying.

According to police, there were a total of 32 calls for service in the area of the Henk Ruys Soccer Centre, Cosmo Civic Centre and Travelodge hotel, including 12 reports of drunkenness, seven reports of disturbances and one report of domestic violence. The arrests were mainly related to intoxication and nuisance, said Saskatoon police Staff Sgt. Patrick Nogier.

“It’s one of those situations where you have people that are unsettled and uncomfortable with the living arrangements made for them. Then you start mixing alcohol,” he said.

Currently in Saskatoon are approximately 900 evacuees from the northern communities of Wollaston Lake and Hatchet Lake First Nation, which is threatened by a wild fire.

Nogier said police anticipate the problems of Thursday night will persist. A plan is in place to call out additional officers “for as long as necessary” to keep public peace, say police.

“It’s not just a one-night snapshot for us,” said Nogier. “I can hope you appreciate that we’re moving into a weekend here.”

Meanwhile, the provincial government is beefing up security and sending more workers to the two evacuation shelters in Saskatoon and one in Prince Albert, including at least four more security guards at the soccer centre, where an estimated 675 people are staying.

Norm Vetter, the province’s emergency social services manager, said staff are not allowing anyone intoxicated into the shelters. People who are drunk will have to find accommodation on their own, he said.

Officials said the evacuees are under a great deal of stress.

“For the people coming out of the community, this is not an easy process for them,” Vetter said.

“Many of them have been sitting in hangars and airports for, in some times, up to 10 or 12 hours before they got transferred out. Everybody’s tired and it is a strain on local people.”

Richard Kent, commissioner for emergency and protective services with the Prince Albert Grand Council, also says some evacuees speak mainly Dene and may be getting frustrated because of language barriers.

Hatchet Lake reserve is a “dry” community where alcohol is banned.

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