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Northern economy feeling the effects of Saskatchewan wildfires

Watch above: What impact are the wildfires in Saskatchewan having on the economy? Neil McMillan, president of the Saskatchewan Mining Association, explains some of the effects. 

SASKATOON – While a lot of attention has been focused on the battle against raging wildfires in northern Saskatchewan, it’s not the only challenge. The northern economy is also taking a hit.

Thousands of jobs in the north depend on mining or tourism.

“It’s disruptive at the very least,” said Neil McMillan, who is president of the Saskatchewan Mining Association.

READ MORE: Troops ready to help battle northern Sask. wildfires

“All of the mines and mills in the north are still operating, but it’s tenuous, for a number of reasons,” said McMillan, who for many years ran Claude Resources, which operates the Seabee gold mine in northern Saskatchewan.

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He said the challenges include getting enough supplies to keep the mines and mills going.

“The transportation of necessary goods – diesel fuel, propane, and other things used in the mining and milling operations – there’s been lots of times they’ve been disrupted,” said McMillan. “I know they’ve done a couple of convoys of supplies to keep the operations running.”

And the workforce for the northern mines often lives in the north. Some have had to leave to help with evacuations, or to help protect their communities.

“All of the companies are bending over backwards to accommodate employees who’ve had to go home to help with an evacuation, or their properties. It’s disruptive, but it enables everybody to get on the same page with respect to their objectives – make sure everything that can be done is being done,” he said, adding the heavy smoke has also disrupted flights bringing employees to the mines to work.

READ MORE: Sask. wildfires: The donating do’s & don’ts

However, McMillan says the mining companies are going out of their way to help. For example, one trucked a diesel generator into a northern community threatened by fire, because the power lines were down.

“They have a big grocery store and they were going to lose all their food supplies, so the company was able to get a generator into that site and hook up up the grocery store – that kind of stuff is a big issue as well,” he said.

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The north is a haven for tourism in the summer, and that is also being affected. “That’s (tourism) a big ticket item for the province of Saskatchewan, and that’s clearly got to be suffering badly now,” said McMillan. He said people have been stopped from driving north, and flights in and out have been disrupted.

“I mean visibility for aircraft was below minimum to fly float planes, so they were grounded or on the water when they should have been flying tourists in and out,” he said.

McMillan said after working for the north for decades, he cannot remember a forest fire season as bad as this.

“Not even close.”

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