With the nearby Harding fire under control, our local contractors that were called up to the Jan Lake and Pelican Narrows area are working long hours to protect homes and buildings from nearby fires. Crews are focussing on building heavy fire guards around homes and other buildings in the path of the Preston, Wilkin, and Granite fires. While no full accounting of how much equipment is working on the fire, a Ministry of Environment spokesperson has indicated that all aircraft in the province has been made available to fight the fires with ongoing water drops.
The fires have crossed over Highway 106 east of the junction of 135 and Highway 135 both north and south of Pelican Narrows and prompted evacuations in Jan Lake, Birch Portage, Pelican Narrows, and Sandy Bay. A state of emergency has been declared in Jan Lake, Birch Portage and Sandy Bay due to smoke concerns from the wildfires.
The three fires of concern are currently Not Contained and total over 50,000 hectares with the Preston Fire at 20,000 hectares, Wilkin Fire at 6,200 hectares, and the Granite Fire over 25,000 hectares.
Pelican Narrows -Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation
According to Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, Pelican Narrows counselor, Weldon McCallum, the major concern is the smoke from the fires and measures are being taken to ensure those with health issues have been evacuated. While efforts are focussed on getting community members out by charter buses and convoys, Counselor McCallum says they do have a contingency plan to move residents by boat across the water should the fire’s threat to the community escalate and travel by roads is not an option.
Initially, 18 bus loads of community residents, along with some in private vehicles, managed to get evacuated safely to Saskatoon and Prince Albert, another 6 buses scheduled to convoy out with Wildfire Management escorts was called off temporarily Tuesday as two fires crossed highways blocking the only road access out of Pelican Narrows. The 19th convoy of 2 charter buses, 3 passenger vans, and nearly 60 private vehicles managed to get out around 4 pm Wednesday afternoon headed for Prince Albert. As of Thursday at 11 am, about 1,000 residents remained in the community with ongoing plans to continue escorted convoys to continue evacuations. Although the highway is closed, there are parts of the day when the fire is a lower risk, such as early morning and in the evening, and Ministry of Environment WIldfire crews are able to escort evacuees using radio controlled pilot vehicles and a check-out and in system to ensure everyone makes it safely through the road closures. Once out, residents will not be allowed to return
Security measures have also been taken to protect the community from theft and vandalism. A curfew was ordered by the Grand Council on August 30th affecting all persons in the community, mandating no one be outside their home yard sites between 9 pm and 7 am, which the exception of those providing essential services to the safety of the community. Anyone in breach of the curfew may be detained by the RCMP for identification and clarification of their purpose for breaching the curfew hours. Additional RCMP members arrived to assist with security along with 12 Band employed security personnel. An order was also passed by the Grand Council Wednesday in a measure to protect children under 16 remaining in the community, enabling the RCMP to enforce the Provincial Child and Family Services Act to apprehend children under 16 and have them taken to the evacuation centers or Child and Family Services in Prince Albert to protect the best interests of the children and the community.
While evacuation centers and hotels are filling up in Saskatoon and Prince Albert, the province is currently looking to other communities for alternative evacuation facilities, including the possibility of sending evacuees to the Battlefords area. Communities closer to the fires, such as Nipawin, are not a suitable option due to the smoke advisories and the potential of increased pollution from the smoke.