La Ronge still under fire threat, Chief offers updates
For many northerners, a mandatory evacuation turned their weekend upside down.
Thousands of people were forced to leave from the tri-community area of La Ronge Saturday night.
Chief Tammy Cook Searson says they transported around 1,100 people on 24 buses to Prince Albert.
She’s one of the few people that are still in La Ronge today.
Wildfires Management is pouring all their resources into stopping the ‘Egg’ and ‘Eli’ fires from further entering La Ronge. Sprinkler units are being set up in the north end of the Town of La Ronge.
“Right now the winds are not in our favour because the fire is at the north end of the airport and the winds are south which means it’s going to push the fire this way, into the community,” said Cook-Searoson.
Last night’s mandatory evacuation order meant people were, sometimes frantically, trying to leave the area.
Cook-Searson said the process was backed up with people getting fuel for the trip, and traffic was moving slow.
“The fire was burning fast and coming into the community quick,” said Cook-Searson. “We still had a lot of people at the JR Hall when the fire was still at the north end of the airport.”
“They were working the fire hard and fire departments from five different regions were here so we had extra resources that were helping.”
The coach buses that they had requested were delayed so they decided to bring in school buses.
“So we were able to move people out of the community, even just to Prince Albert into safety from the fire because we didn’t know how the fire was going to be behaving,” said Cook-Searson.
From there, the Red Cross would guide people to congregate shelter or hotels. In most cases evacuees from La Ronge are being taken to Cold Lake, Alta. Although over a thousand took public transport to Prince Albert, the number who drove their own cars is unknown, and could be up to 6,000.
The only people left in the community are essential service people working for SaskPower, SaskEnergy and government. Cook-Searson said individuals must have identifications on them, giving them permission to stay, since the evacuation is mandatory.
“There’s usually people that refuse to leave,” said Cook-Searson. “The RCMP went knocking on doors and just getting people out because there was a mandatory evacuation order.”
On Saturday night, fire was coming directly into the community of Hall Lake.
Cook-Searson said they sent three buses and still had to send another two to get everyone out, all while trying to evacuate La Ronge as well.
According to Wildfire Management, the Hall Lake was a human caused. The case is currently being investigated.
At this point, the area of La Ronge has had no precipitation. According to Cook-Searson, even though temperatures dipped to 15 degrees, at 3 or 4 a.m. the fire was reported at rank 3/4, which is classified as ‘hot’ she said.
Water bombers are still being kept on the ground due to the smoke. Over 660 firefighters are on the ground with 64 aircraft support, which will fly out of Prince Albert, Meadow Lake and La Ronge when smoke clears up.
Still, despite the current threat, Cook-Searson said their main priority has been taken care of.
“It’s nice to know that the majority of people are out of the community because that’s always the biggest thing, making sure that our people are safe,” she said.
She’s been giving updates to the community on Facebook and has offered her cell phone number up to the public, suggesting people call or text with any concerns.
“My cellphone’s been ringing non-stop,” she laughed.
Evacuations in the area to date:
La Ronge- fire at the airport north of the town
Lac La Ronge Indian Band
Gradmother’s Bay- ‘Brian Fire’ 8 km from community
Clam Lake Bridge
(The resort areas of Napatak and Potato Lake to the south are not immediately threatened, but evacuation is still prudent, according to Tammy.)
Evacuees can register with the Red Cross at 1-888-953-3463, or stop at the Margo Fournier Centre in Prince Albert.
The hospital is within the mandatory evacuation area so the emergency clinic is now operating out of the ambulance centre. Emergency services are still available through 911. People needing advice on health issues can call 306-425-0087.
La Ronge RCMP is providing security to the community. Additional resources have arrived.
Officials remind drivers to obey all check stops and barricades as they evacuate.
Travellers can consult the highways hotline map on-line, or call 888-335-7623.
For urgent matters, call 1-306-425-8869.