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Increased wildfire behaviour expected in Saskatchewan due to weather

LATEST UPDATE: Wildfire posing a direct threat to Pinehouse, Sask.

As soldiers started to help crews battling wildfires in northern Saskatchewan, government officials warned the situation may get worse. At the same time, it was announced some of the evacuees can go home.

Duane McKay, with Saskatchewan’s Emergency Management department, said they are expecting an increase in fire behavior due to the current weather forecast, which calls for hot, dry conditions and gusty northwest winds.

There are currently 118 wildfires burning in the province.

A wildfire continues to burn near La Ronge. Thomas Sierzycki, the mayor of the community, said the fire has been active and has grown on the flanks but remains two kilometers northwest and 1.5 kilometres north of the town.

Around 360 Canada Forces troops joined firefighters battling the blazes. Half were deployed to La Ronge and the remainder to Montreal Lake where they are building fire guards and clearing brush.

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Watch below: Soldiers began helping crews fight wildfires threatening communities in northern Saskatchewan on Wednesday, as other western provinces called in help from foreign countries. About 360 troops were building fire guards and clearing brush near La Ronge and Montreal Lake.

Over 10,000 people have been evacuated but there is some good news for some of the evacuees.

People from Sturgeon Lake, Little Red and Dakota Nation were cleared to return home on Wednesday.

It could be awhile, however, before other evacuees are allowed to return to their homes and officials are planning in weeks, not days.

McKay said there is a criteria to be followed before allowing residents back to their community: no threat from fire; medical services available; and community infrastructure in place.

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Watch below: Saskatchewan Minister of Government Relations Jim Reiter discusses the fire bans in effect in various aprks across the province, as well as the evacuation alerts which have force nearly 10,000 people from their homes.

Crews from Quebec, Ontario, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and South Dakota have been helping out. Roberts said the province was in discussions with the United States government about more crews coming north.

The La Ronge First Nation was also seeking volunteers to help fight fires, including evacuees.

Around 600 people have volunteered to assist with firefighting efforts. McKay said they could be trained and mobilized within 10-14 days, with 350-400 trained to replace the military.

READ MORE: Travelling carnival entertaining evacuees

Steve Roberts with Saskatchewan Wildfire Management said the fire situation across Western Canada is so busy that it is a challenge for the provinces to get enough firefighters.

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“As we started down the road with these fires, Alberta and British Columbia fire hazards escalated, the numbers of fires increased and they had community evacuations as well,” Roberts said.

“That has stretched the availability of resources across the country.”

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, which co-ordinates firefighting services, said Canada may have to seek more help from abroad.

The latest report on the agency website said major wildfires “have the potential to exhaust agency fire resources nationally.”

“National resource levels are insufficient to meet occurring and anticipated wildland fire activity,” it said.

READ MORE: Refunds available for campers at some provincial parks impacted by smoke

Wildfire expert Mike Flannigan said tinderbox conditions that have lead to the destructive fires in the West can be blamed on climate change.

“Our weather this year has been very hot, dry and windy,” said the University of Alberta professor.

“This is consistent with what we expect with climate change. I’m not saying every year is going to be a bad fire year, but we are going to see a lot more fire on the landscape.”

Kerry Anderson, a research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service, said the weather pattern known as El Nino, which is caused by the warming of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of South America, is responsible.

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He expects weather conditions will settle down in Saskatchewan in the coming weeks, but warmer than normal temperatures will likely persist in B.C. and Alberta.

Anderson said even if crews bring the Saskatchewan fires under control, they may not actually be out until the fall.

“The large fires that are burning there will continue to burn until they are contained or until a fire-ending event may occur, and that may just end up being the first snowfall.”

With files from Global’s Wendy Winiewski and The Canadian Press

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