By Phil Ambroziak
Forest fires raging in Saskatchewan’s north required some fast action by the Keewatin Regional Health Authority recently.
“Fourteen patients in acute care, long-term care and respite care were transferred from the La Loche Health Centre on Thursday evening (June 25) with the majority going to Meadow Lake,” explained Dale West, KYRHA director of communications and information services. “Two patients were also transferred to Ile-a-la Crosse.”
As of Monday morning (June 29), West confirmed those numbers remained the same, adding it’s common practice across the province to move at-risk or vulnerable patients when conditions warrant.
Meanwhile, in an effort to secure similar assistance for patients in Beauval, officials in that community declared a local emergency as of Monday morning (June 29).
“There’s no immediate fire threat to our community, but the air quality is very poor,” explained Beauval councillor Nick Daigneault. “There’s so much heavy smoke in the air, but in order to reach out for help from the Ministry of Health, and to evacuate people with certain conditions, a state of emergency had to be declared.”
Daigneault went on to say the ministry’s priorities currently lie with La Loche and other northern communities, but – if and when assistance is provided to Beauval – evacuees will include pregnant women, elders, children under the age of two years and people with chronic lung and heart conditions.
“Right now, they have us on a call back list while we get things prepared,” he added. “This way, when they respond, we’ll be ready to go.”
Ile-a-la Crosse also declared a state of emergency yesterday based on a recommendation made by the health region. As a result, a mandatory evacuation was issued for people with health or respiratory problems, people 65 or older, children under the age of two and pregnant women.
According to information posted on the village’s Facebook page, there was also no immediate fire threat to the community, but residents were encouraged to remain indoors and keep all doors and windows closed.
As of press time, wildfires continued to burn hundreds of acres of forest in the North. The fires were so large and so great in number, the City of Meadow Lake and surrounding areas were covered in hazy conditions throughout the day yesterday.
There was no immediate threat to La Ronge, but travel was not recommended in that area. General evacuations were also issued for Grandmother’s Bay, Montreal Lake, Wadin Bay, Sucker River, English Bay, Nemeiben and Weyakwin while a recommended evacuation was issued for La Loche because of heavy smoke.
The fires are also causing road closures. According to Pinehouse Lake RCMP, Highway 914 leading to Pinehouse was closed on the weekend because of a forest fire at Musqua Lake, approximately 20 kilometres south of the community.
Daigneault said, although forest fires are common in the North every summer, he doesn’t recall the situation being this dire for some time.
“The last time it was this bad was probably back in 2005 or 2006,” he said. “It’s not terribly common, but conditions have been so dry in Saskatchewan and Alberta this year, resulting in the fires getting bigger and becoming more frequent.”
Meanwhile, according to the Ministry of Environment’s daily wildfire report, there were 115 wildfires burning in Saskatchewan as of yesterday. Of these, 58 were burning in the Buffalo Narrows area, 22 of which were not contained. Five, however, were contained, six were protecting values and 25 were part of an ongoing assessment.