Smoke biggest concern as Alberta wildfires creep toward Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan fire officials provided some good news for the province on Sunday, saying the wildfires in Alberta have not made it over the border, though smoke and hot, dry conditions remain a concern.

Smaller fire in Alberta about 20 kilometres away from the Saskatchewan border

Smoke from wildfires blankets the northern Saskatchewan community of La Loche on May 7.

Saskatchewan fire officials provided some good news for the province on Sunday, saying the wildfires in Alberta have not made it over the border this weekend. 

However, active fires in the province, smoke from Alberta, and the hot and dry weather continues to be worrisome.

Officials say there are 12 wildfires currently burning in Saskatchewan, and all but two of them are considered contained.

Duane McKay, provincial fire commissioner, said no communities or critical infrastructure is currently threatened by wildfires in Saskatchewan.

"We are not seeing significant incidents here in the province as we do in our neighbours to the west," he said. "However, we are building contingencies to respond to any events that might occur."

Alberta fires move east

Ash from wildfires falls on a vehicle in the northern Saskatchewan community of La Loche.

There are two significant fires burning in northern Alberta, close to Fort McMurray, that were expected to creep towards the Saskatchewan border. Officials said the two fires have not converged and that they "didn't move a great deal yesterday," thanks to some cooler weather.

The fires are estimated to be about 15-30 kilometres from the Saskatchewan border.

Even if the fires do reach the border, McKay said they will still be about 60 to 70 kilometres away from threatening any settlements. La Loche and Buffalo Narrows in northwest Saskatchewan are the closest communities at this time.

"Our biggest concern is smoke and how that will impact communities and individuals."

Air quality warnings

In the past two days, Environment Canada has sent out numerous warnings to several communities about poor air quality and reduced visibility in northwestern Saskatchewan. La Loche and Buffalo Narrows are most affected by smoke and ash.

Fire officials in Saskatchewan are particularly concerned about smoke moving into the province. In the nothern community of La Loche, smoke is already a problem.

McKay said more than 100 municipalities have issued fire bans in the southern portion of the province, and that is helping contain accidental grass fires that can cost fire services time and resources.

"A couple of days ago, we were averaging 75 to 80 calls per day. These are calls that required a response from a municipal or First Nations fire department to handle immediate threats due to wildfire."

McKay said the number of calls dropped to eight on Saturday.

"We are seeing vigilance and the cooperation of people right across this province to reduce those risks by, quite frankly, being very careful around fire."

High alert still in place

Saskatchewan has experienced an extremely warm spring, record high temperatures for the season and a lack of rain that has left both grasslands in the south and forested areas in the north tinder dry.

While things appear to be slowing down this weekend, Steve Roberts, executive director of wildfire management, said the service remains on high alert.

Roberts said temperatures above 20 C, moderate winds, very little rain and a chance of some lightning are all concerns throughout the province.

"We would expect these fires to continue to grow," he said. "It will be the rate that they grow and the ability to control their advance over the next couple of days that will determine if or when they would come into Saskatchewan."

There have been 124 wildfires so far this year in Saskatchewan.

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