Firefighting crews are working to contain three wildfires burning near the northern Saskatchewan village of Pelican Narrows that have threatened a number of communities in the area and forced hundreds of residents to evacuate.
The three fires are burning more than 500 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, near the Manitoba border.
Over 1500 residents from Pelican Narrows, Jan Lake, Birch Portage and Sandy Bay have traveled south to seek refuge in Prince Albert and Saskatoon.
There are still more than 1,000 Pelican Narrows’ residents who have not left the community, according to Duane McKay, the province’s commissioner and executive director of emergency management and fire safety. He added that many people are also staying put in Sandy Bay, a community north of Pelican Narrows.
“There’s still a large number of people there that are feeling that the situation does not require them to evacuate,” McKay said in a media conference call Thursday.
“Although the mandatory evacuation order was issued, there is quite a bit of leeway in terms of the enforcing of that.”
More than 140 provincial personnel are fighting the fires, aided by more than 15 helicopters and four pieces of heavy equipment. Officials also said Saskatchewan’s entire firefighting airplane fleet is available to battle the blazes.
There are no reports of structures lost in any communities affected by the fire, according to provincial officials. Crews are also working to protect critical infrastructure, like power lines, that are threatened by the fires.
Parts of highways 106 and 135, which lead to Pelican Narrows, are closed due to the fires. However residents who wish to leave the community are still able to since the fires “tend to lay down in the evenings,” allowing people to pass through the roads, according to officials.
“We don’t anticipate a situation where the highway is completely impassable and the people are trapped in there,” McKay said.
There are a total of 34 active wildfires burning in Saskatchewan, four of which are not contained. There have been 299 wildfires this year, compared to the five-year average of 442.