A local state of emergency was declared in Prince Albert, Sask., late Monday after an evacuation order was issued for some residents in the city and the Rural Municipality (RM) of Buckland as a wildfire threatened the area.
The order was issued just before 5 p.m. for anyone who lived and worked north of Highway 55, east of Cloverdale Road and west of the Honeymoon Road. Residents were initially told to head to the Art Hauser Centre, but are being told to now go to the Margo Fournier Centre.
Kim Morrall and her family are among the evacuees. They live on a road across from the Prince Albert airport, and the fire was raging just behind their home.
She, her husband, their three children and two pets fled to a friend’s home almost a kilometre away.
“We had 20 minutes to pack up and figure out what was important to bring and get out and of course, you forget a bunch of things,” she told Global News.
“Like am I going to come home to ashes, is everything going to be gone or what. That’s a daunting and scary thought.”
In an evening press conference, Mayor Greg Dionne said about 30 homes within city limits and six in the RM had evacuated, but more were on notice as winds fanned the flames.
“This fire is in the hands and at the mercy of the weather,” he told reporters.
“I’m a very positive person and I know (the) capability of our men and women (fighting the fire), but again, we are fighting a monster and that is the best way to describe it.”
He said three provincial waterbombers, a helicopter and a spotter plane were assisting in the fight as of 8 p.m. He said ground teams were sprinkling homes to protect them from the fire, which was creating its own wind tunnel.
Defending the declaration of a local state of emergency, Dionne said it allowed the city quicker access to equipment, as well as unlocked more funding to help cover costs.
The mayor could not say if any more people or property could be in harm’s way Monday night, assessing the current risk situation an 8 out of 10.
“At this point, the wind is blowing in the right direction but if the wind changes direction we could be in serious trouble,” Dionne said.
Elaine McMillan, a realtor in Prince Albert and a resident of Christopher Lake, about 30 minutes away, was out of power and packing her bags in case the fire reached her home.
“Flames are getting absolutely enormous and we’ve had three emergency alerts in the last 20 minutes for immediate evacuation from that area,” McMillan said.
She said she’s never seen flames that big.
“I think it was about 8:30 (a.m.) when I went by and it looked fairly large from a distance … maybe a mile across,” McMillan said.
Environment Canada issued a special air quality statement for the areas of Prince Albert, Shellbrook, Spiritwood and Duck Lake on Monday due to smoke.
The federal agency said localized wildfires occurring near Prince Albert are creating reduced visibilities in smoke and poor air quality downwind of the fires.
“Due to the smoky conditions, individuals living in or travelling to … area are advised to be aware of potential health concerns that can be associated with poor air conditions,” read a statement from the agency.
“Individuals may experience symptoms such as increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath. Children, seniors, and those with cardiovascular or lung disease, such as asthma, are especially at risk.”
Environment Canada urged anyone exposed to wildfire smoke to consider taking extra precautions to reduce their exposure and to call HealthLine 811 for advice on health risks, symptoms and precautions associated with air quality.