'Like this big mushroom cloud': Residents evacuated Crutwell with fire just 2 km from houses

A second evacuation alert for the hamlet of Crutwell has been lifted after about 80 residents have left the small community on Tuesday. Meanwhile, 857 people have been sent from their homes on the Waterhen Lake First Nation.

Crutwell's 2nd evacuation order lifted again after several hours

A fire near Crutwell, Sask. got as close as 2 km away from houses in the community Tuesday afternoon. About 80 people had to leave the community. (CBC News/Alicia Bridges)

A second evacuation alert for the hamlet of Crutwell has been lifted after about 80 residents have left the small community on Tuesday.

Resident Colin Thole said he's been praying for the so-called Rally fire to let up for the past two days. It is now over 2,000 hectares in size and not contained.

On Tuesday, after a second evacuation order was called in the community, his family left. Thole and his wife have two children and two cats. It was lifted around 9 p.m. Tuesday night.

He said he was eating lunch when an RCMP officer came to the door and gave them a warning. Half an hour later, he came back and told them to leave.

"Everything looked good and then all of a sudden it was just like this big mushroom cloud started coming up and it got darker and stronger and smokier," Thole said.

"[We're] grasping at straws right now, just trying to figure things out."

Smoke from the Rally wildfire was visible from Highway 3 near Crutwell. (Alicia Bridges/CBC)

Muriel Silk said she went out to her backyard and saw smoke in the distance. It reminded her of another fire that infringed on the community over a decade ago.

"I just thought it was a repeat of 2002," she told CBC. "We had another similar forest fire that threatened our community. I don't know what it was, but somebody was sure smiling down on Crutwell then because the fire did exactly what it's doing now. It just kind of come…[and] went around."

Residents of Crutwell were ordered out of their homes on Monday afternoon and once again on Tuesday. (CBC)

Before the second evacuation order was called, Silk said she could actually see the flames from her yard. Before she was told to leave, she was already on the way out with her grandchildren.

Shellbrook RCMP Sgt. David Sanderson said the fire jumped the fire line Tuesday and was two kilometres away from properties at one point. 

By Tuesday night, he said everyone was out of Crutwell, with full cooperation from residents.

Later, it jumped the river as it moved south. Sanderson said officers moved to that area to start evacuating people.

"We just want to make sure everybody is out of their houses and nobody is in harm's way. That's our main job," he said

Evacuees are being sent to Shellbrook to register with the Red Cross at a local senior's complex. Sanderson said most are staying with family for the time being.

Fire nears only road in and out of Waterhen Lake First Nation

Meanwhile, 857 people have been sent from their homes on the Waterhen Lake First Nation.

A wildfire there, called the Tuff fire, came too close to comfort to the only road in and out of the reserve. The 2,500-hectare fire was only six km away from that roadway as of Tuesday.

Chief Joanne Roy told CBC people were bused to Meadow Lake, and then on to Saskatoon.

Chronically ill and elderly people were evacuated from the community Monday and everyone else followed Tuesday afternoon.
Band councillors urged elders and those with respiratory conditions to leave the community of Waterhen Lake First Nation on Monday. The rest of the community, nearly 900 people, followed on Tuesday afternoon. (Submitted by April Mistickokat)

"We've got a handful of people who have said, 'We don't want to leave Meadow Lake, we're going to stay with friends,' however, if they choose to stay with friends or family in the town of Meadow Lake or Saskatoon, we would be providing regular meals for them," Roy said.

Many evacuees are being taken to the Henk Ruys Soccer Centre in Saskatoon. People can register there and will be given further instructions.

Others will be directed to hotel or motel accommodations. 

"We're really encouraging everybody to register, just to make sure that we're accountable for all our people," Roy said.

According to the Ministry of Environment, both Rally and Tuff fires were human caused.

There are currently nine active wildfires in the province, four which are contained.

With files from Alicia Bridges