Wildfires won't be smothered anytime soon in northern Sask.
34 active wildfires burning in the province on Tuesday morning
Gusting, shifting winds on the weekend sustained northern Saskatchewan's dynamic wildfire situation, and the flames won't be extinguished anytime soon.
"We're talking hundreds of thousands of hectares here. They're not going out any time soon," Saskatchewan Wildfire Management executive director Steve Roberts said Monday.
"Weather may be coming, weather may be put off."
He said that means the focus remains on stabilizing the fires threatening communities, so people can return home while work continues.
Crews continue to cut the fire's fuel using aerial ignition, despite difficult weather conditions.
Late Monday, about 20 people from the Tyrell Lake area joined the thousands of evacuees who had already left the area when emergency services asked them to leave.
There were concerns the Granite fire, which now spans 1,100 square kilometres, was edging closer to the Tyrell Lake recreational subdivision near Highway 106.
The highway was closed temporarily on Monday but the fire did not end up reaching the community.
More communities threatened
Three large fires continue to threaten communities in the north and pose concern to the province. People have been evacuated from Jan Lake and Birch Portage because of the Granite fire, which has grown to be six times the size of Regina.
The Preston fire, burning mere kilometres away from Pelican Narrows, had grown to be two-and-a-half times the size of the city of Regina. Almost all residents have left the community.
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Only the Wilkin Fire remained stable during the weekend at 6,000 hectares.
On Tuesday, 2,797 people were receiving assistance from the Ministry of Social Services. Of the evacuees, 807 were staying in Saskatoon and 1,990 in Prince Albert.
Strain on services in Prince Albert
Deanna Valentine from the Ministry of Social Services said it was typical for people who are eager to go home to start shifting north in readiness for the evacuation order to lift.
But she said the disproportionate number strains the health-care systems and the hotels. The province has asked some evacuees if they would transfer to Saskatoon.
"If we can even those numbers out a little bit it will provide a little bit more breathing room for the evacuated residents," said Valentine.
Some evacuees have volunteered to resettle, but the province would still like to see more.
However, the province noted that many of the evacuees have family in Prince Albert.
Chief to decide on return to community
The province said the decision to have people return to the community will be led by Chief Peter Beatty in consultation with provincial officials.
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Commissioner of fire safety Duane McKay said they are always looking for a right time to return people home. He said the province has held regular briefings with community leaders.
"The decision to go back is really the local leaders', and that is under their authority that the people were taken out. We're in support of that."
Convoys to Creighton start Tuesday
The Ministry of Highways will start allowing escorted convoys on Highway 106 from the junction of Highway 135 to the community of Creighton on Tuesday. Residents will be able to join the convoys from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily, as long as conditions allow it.
Because the departure of the convoys depends on visibility and fire conditions, the ministry said there could still be significant wait times.
The fires, by the numbers
As of Tuesday morning, 34 wildfires were active in the province. Five are not contained, meaning they are expected to grow in size. Firefighters are focused on protecting property threatened by six active wildfires and 19 require regular monitoring.
The fires are being tackled by more than 300 people, 21 helicopters, 15 pieces of heavy equipment and the provincial air tanker fleet.
There have been 326 wildfires in the province this year.