Massive fire north of Prince Albert, Sask., is threatening farms and acreages
More than 35 homes have been evacuated, fire has jumped across Highway 55
Harold Fisher is wondering if he'll have a home to go back to.
Fisher had to evacuate his farm late Monday evening because of a large fire raging north of Prince Albert, Sask., about 135 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.
"When I left last night, the sky was red. It was red all across the east and to the south where I am. The sky was just on fire," said Fisher, whose quarter section of land is on the edge of the Nisbet Forest along Cloverdale Road.
"I guess today will tell the story as far as which way the fire goes, but it's going to be some time before this blaze is out for sure."
A state of emergency remains in effect for Prince Albert and the rural municipality of Buckland. Hundreds more people are on standby in case they too need to evacuate their homes.
WATCH | Fire threatens homes, businesses:
Fire tracking to the northeast
The Cloverdale Fire, as it is now being called, started at about 2.30 p.m. CST on Monday.
By evening it had grown to more than four square kilometres and this morning had covered covers 3,694 hectares, said Steve Roberts, vice-president of operations for the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency.
He said the fire is not contained. Crews will face temperatures close to 30 C and wind gusts of up to 40 km/h.
Roberts said heavy smoke drifted into in Prince Albert last night and that residents should expect more this evening.
"It has primarily cleared today, but again that will start to grow this afternoon as accumulations of fuel within the fire boundaries heat up during the course of the day," he said.
The weather forecast is for cooler temperatures over the coming days which should help crews contain the fire, Roberts said.
SaskPower spokesperson Joel Cherry said about 9,000 customers have lost power, stretching from just north of Prince Albert up to La Ronge.
Cherry said power will be out for at least today if not longer as crews work to repair power lines damaged by the fire.
Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne said Tuesday morning that the fire had jumped across Highway 55. He said bulldozers are trying to create a barrier to save a nearby lumber site, although some stacks of wood have already been lost.
"We have quite a few homes on that side, big acreages. Plus we have a big commercial greenhouse operation," he said.
He said a local pulp mill has been saved for the time being.
Bombers drop retardant
Arnie Stefaniuk has an acreage on O'Grady Lane, a development situated just south of Highway 55 between the pulp mill and the airport.
Stefaniuk said around 4:30 p.m. on Monday the fire was racing up toward their development from the other side of Highway 55.
"There was water bombers, actually retardant bombers flying right over the house and they dropped fire retardant on the north side of the highway," he said.
Stefaniuk said a couple of grass fires popped up and fire trucks came to put them out.
"If it wasn't for those fire retardant planes, we would have lost that whole subdivision yesterday, I'm sure of it." he said.
His wife left the acreage around 10:30 p.m. Monday night, but Stefaniuk stayed, parking in an open field in case he had to leave right away. He left around 8 a.m. to his farm farther north.
Dionne said the fire has now moved into the Rural Municipality of Garden River and is tracking to the northeast.
That's not good news for Fisher, as that means the fire is headed toward his property.
Fisher noticed smoke yesterday afternoon and called 911 right away. He said the fire blew up quickly and was moving very fast in the dry, hot and windy conditions.
"I could actually look across the field at one point and I could see the flames from the fire because they were shooting way above the treetops at that time," he said. "You could see new fires starting ahead of the fire. The smoke was rising, towering up and I imagine embers flying forward in advance of the flame."
Fisher is hoping to get back to his farm, where he has a greenhouse. The power is out, so he needs to get the plants outside or he will likely lose them all.
Dionne said the situation is still tense, but so far no lives or homes have been lost.
"We're still not out of the woods," he said.
Dionne said one resident told him there were flames right near their house.
"A water bomber came along and sort of ended that. So he's quite happy that his house is still there," he said.
'A tinderbox waiting for that lightning'
Dionne said this has been an extremely dry spring and the Nisbet Forest is at great risk for fire.
"We've known for years it's dry and it's just a tinderbox waiting to go up," he said. "And unfortunately, that's today."
Fisher said there is a lot of infested dwarf mistletoe and very old jack pine — which could go up in flames very easily — west of where the fire boundary was yesterday.
LISTEN | Fisher speaks with Saskatoon Morning:
Dionne said it is still a volatile situation.
"When we get temperatures of 33 C, what comes at night is lightning. So it's just a tinderbox waiting for that lightning to come, so we are extremely worried."
Several fire departments are working on the fire. The province has also sent three water bombers, a helicopter, spotter plane and more firefighters.
The cause of the fire is not known.
As the northern wildfire continues, some communities are experiencing power outages.
The rural Montreal Lake Cree Nation, located 103 kilometres north of Prince Albert, currently has no power and therefore no access to gas, water and fresh food.
WATCH | Community gathers video of Prince Albert, Sask., fire:
Diana Bird, a member of the board of directors for Montreal Lake Cree Nation urban services, said the power went out Monday at 3 p.m. local time. It was 31 C at the time.
"The pandemic and now this emergency is weighing so heavily on our First Nations people who do not have access to the water, to food security" she said. "It's just very, very concerning."
Bird says many of grocery stores on northern reserves are affected by the outage and shut down as a result.
"Those that do not have access are calling us and they're demanding water and food. The elders especially, the vulnerable people, they can't just go out and get water. They have no running water right now. They're stuck in their houses."
Bird says the urban service board of directors is hoping to partner with the Montreal Lake Band for funding, and distribute food and water packages to elders.
WATCH | RCMP directing traffic at the pumps:
In Air Ronge, approximately 235 kilometres north of Prince Albert, cars has sat in long lineups all day to get gas. Local resident Tom Roberts says the pumps are currently running on a generator.
The RCMP have been brought in to manage the swarms of people.
The Co-op gas bar in Air Ronge said on Facebook that, at the request of the RCMP, it is closing tonight at 8 p.m.
"The lineups have proven to be difficult to manage and this will only be compounded after dark," Co-op said in the statement.
The business assured the public that the generator had been fully fuelled for the next 10 days and that a full load of fuel is scheduled to arrive at noon Wednesday.
Co-op says it will re-open at 6 a.m. Wednesday and close at 10 p.m.
SaskPower cannot repair affected area
The fire prevented SaskPower crews from entering the affected area to begin repairs.
SaskPower said in a statement Tuesday it is using all available resources, including contract crews and equipment.
SaskPower said it will begin "round-the-clock" repair work as soon as the fire commissioner gives permission to enter the affected area.
The estimated repair time for most of affected customers is up to three days, and the length of the work will depend on how many structures were destroyed, and the condition of the conductor wire.
"Currently, SaskPower is aware of 15 structures that will need replacement, and it is likely that more will be damaged, as the fire remains uncontained," the utility company said.
Meanwhile, Saskatchewan RCMP say Highway 55 is closed from Meath Park to Prince Albert in both directions.
RCMP warn the public to avoid all major grid roads between Highways 55 and 355, as they are closed and being used by emergency agencies to transport equipment and water for wildfire fighting efforts.
Road closures are expected to last until at least Wednesday evening, according to police.
With files from Saskatoon Morning and Heidi Atter