The resort community of Jan Lake, Sask. has declared a state of emergency over smoke concerns from a wildfire that caused the evacuation of nearby Pelican Narrows on Tuesday. 

Seasonal residents of Jan Lake, which is about 480 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, were leaving the resort area Tuesday evening. A further 15 permanent residents were preparing to self-evacuate, meaning they will stay with family and friends rather than requiring shelter.  

Hours earlier, about 450 people from Pelican Narrows were on their way to Saskatoon after northern forest fire smoke caused the evacuation.

They were set to stay in a temporary shelter at the Henk Ruys Soccer Centre in Saskatoon's north end.

Tuesday afternoon, dozens of workers set up 600 cots, as well as chairs, tables and other furniture. Three of the soccer pitches are covered with single cots, while the fourth will be used for meals and other services. 

Buses evacuation fire Pelican Narrows

Buses wait to transport Pelican Narrows residents away from the fire. (Vanessa Lynn Linklater-McCallum/Facebook)

People brought in food, diapers and basic necessities to help ease the transition.

The Red Cross has been contracted by the provincial Ministry of Social Services, with health and justice officials, as well as the City of Saskatoon sharing the work load.

"This is a big centre to set up, but we have lots of help," said Deanna Valentine, provincial emergency services co-ordinator. 

She has been involved in these types of efforts several times, and said the workers want evacuees to feel as good as they can, given the circumstances. 

Pelican Narrows wildfire

Smoke billows from a wildfire in northern Saskatchewan. (Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure)

"Well, it's not exactly a really homey atmosphere, but overall people are happy to be safe and know that their needs are going to be met," she said.

The Pelican Narrows residents and a dozen more from Birch Portage have fled smoke from northern forest fires. Approximately 3,500 people live in Pelican Narrows, located 520 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.

Environment Canada has placed a large area of northeast Saskatchewan under a special air quality statement. It says anyone with lung issues, children and the elderly are especially at risk.

"The smoke is really thick," said Harold Linklater, vice-chief of Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation and a band councillor for Pelican Narrows. "Right now, there's a bit of a wind blowing, and it's helping, but you can really taste the smoke."

The national weather service said people in the area could experience shortness of breath, headaches and increased coughing. Anyone who remains in the area is asked to stay inside with the windows shut.

Valentine says other communities are considering evacuating, but no others have yet.


With files from David Shield