'Heaviness in your heart,' La Ronge, Sask. resident talks fears as Fort McMurray burns

Less than a year after enduring the largest evacuation in Saskatchewan history, Kandis Riese says La Ronge residents are fearful following a recent fire in the town and the situation in Fort McMurray, Alta.

Kandis Riese captures video of recent helicopter fire fight, reflects on fears of community

Fire on the edges of Lac La Ronge, in northern Saskatchewan. (Kandis Riese/Facebook)

Kandis Riese discovered her love of photography at age nine, in La Ronge, Sask.

She is the fourth generation of her family to call the northern Saskatchewan town home. Her grandfather taught her to appreciate all its wonder through the art form.

"There's just too much beauty around me in northern Saskatchewan," she said of her lifelong pastime.

"I kind of make it my mission to let people know about northern Saskatchewan," Riese said.

Kandis Riese encountered a herd of elk near La Ronge, Sask., on Christmas Day. (Kandis Riese)
  Last summer, she documented the destruction of her home.

Riese and thousands of other northern residents were pushed out of their homes due to massive wildfires that tore through hundreds of thousands of hectares, destroying the homes of animals and humans alike.

It remains the largest evacuation effort in Saskatchewan's history and Riese hopes it stays that way.

Riese said she was forced to flee onto the water as flames pressed in around her.

"I was in a boat and I was absolutely in shock at what I was looking at," Riese said. "I was looking at my childhood playground totally burnt up."

Fears in La Ronge intensify

Wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alta. (Terry Reith/CBC)

As Canadians watch the horrific scenes from the fires in Alberta play out on national media, Riese explained a distinctive fear has set in over La Ronge.

"Pretty scary what's happening in Fort McMurray because they could have been us," she said.

Riese explained that right now, fire is top of mind for the people in her community.

"There's just a heaviness in your heart," she said. "You don't know if you have a home to come back to or if your town is going to be destroyed."

Close call comes early

La Ronge resident Kandis Riese captures helicopter preparing to fight fire

7 years ago
Duration 0:48
La Ronge resident Kandis Riese captures a helicopter scooping up water to fight a local fire.

Recently, a fire broke out in La Ronge and Riese captured a helicopter filling with water to fight the blaze.

"I believe people are fearful because they're well aware what nature can do," she said.

Riese explained that last summer, fires blocked access to the one highway in and out of the community, cutting off the flow of supplies and food. 

You're almost like a zombie because you're completely displaced.- Kandis Riese
  She said although last summer's emergency situation presented a "steep learning curve" for people in the north, this year people are putting away money and supplies    just in case

She said this is especially considering the unprecedented warm, dry weather.

"This is the earliest the ice has been away from the shoreline — first time in years the water has been open this early," she said.

"We kind of need to be preppers at this point."

Riese said she and other northern residents are frequently checking the news to keep an eye on fires burning nearby.

In the meantime, she said her thoughts are with the people who have lost everything in Alberta.

"You're scared. You're worried. You're angry," she said of how one processes an abrupt evacuation. "You're almost like a zombie because you're completely displaced."


Madeline Kotzer


Madeline Kotzer is an award-winning Saskatchewan journalist and social media news editor/presenter for CBC Saskatchewan and CBC Saskatoon.