Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Saskatchewan Forest Fires Mean Poor Air Quality, Reduced Visibility

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Saskatchewan Forest Fires Mean Poor Air Quality, Reduced Visibility

Article excerpt

Forest fires make for smoky Saskatchewan

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REGINA - A fire ban was in place for most of Saskatchewan on Thursday while a blanket of smoke covered the province from the southwest to the northeast and hundreds of people were out of their homes.

Emergency social services said it was helping more than 1,500 people who left four communities in the province's northeast near the Manitoba boundary.

Most of the evacuees were from Pelican Narrows, where a 200-square-kilometre fire was burning about three kilometres away.

"We are carrying out direct action on the southern flank of that fire," Steve Roberts, the province's executive director of wildfire management, said in a conference call.

"Highway 135 has been breached in that area north of Pelican Narrows by this fire, and the fire threat exists to the power lines, which are parallel to that highway, and its substation."

Pelican Narrows was under a general evacuation order.

The community of Sandy Bay, north of Pelican Narrows, also declared a state of emergency. Nearly 80 Sandy Bay residents with health concerns and their families left Wednesday.

Pelican Narrows and Sandy Bay are part of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation. Vice-chief Harold Linklater said in a Facebook post Wednesday that if residents chose to stay, they would be on their own with no guarantee of phone lines, power, water or other essential services.

Duane McKay, Saskatchewan emergency management commissioner, estimated in the conference call that there were more than 1,000 people still in Pelican Narrows. Officials were trying to count people still in the community, he said.

There were five buses in the community, but people seemed to have "very little interest in leaving at this particular point."

He said they could be escorted out in their own vehicles when it was safe to do so.

"The highway ... has been breached by fire; therefore, there is some risk during parts of the day where the highway will be closed for all traffic other than those that are directly engaged in firefighting," said McKay. …

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