Saskatchewan

Wildfire burning east of Prince Albert forces partial evacuation of James Smith Cree Nation

The Fort a la Corne wildfire burning east of Prince Albert, Sask., saw high-priority people from James Smith Cree Nation evacuated due to concerns about smoke. They are making their way home Saturday, according to chief Wally Burns. 

Evacuees are in the process of coming home: chief

The fire's smoke can be seen here near James Smith Cree Nation. (Submitted by Wally Burns)

The Fort a la Corne wildfire burning east of Prince Albert, Sask., saw more than a dozen high-priority people from James Smith Cree Nation evacuated Thursday due to smoke concerns. Chief Wally Burns said they are making their way home Saturday.

Burns' main concern was elders and children, and he said the situation could change again at any moment. 

"Every hour I get a call telling me the direction [of the wind], how many hectares are burning, all this and that," Burns said. 

Strong winds on Thursday caused the fire to jump a fire guard. A statement from a government spokesperson said 5,300 hectares of land were burning Saturday.

"The Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency is responding to the fire with dozers, ground crews, helicopters and air tankers. All efforts are being made to protect the values in the area," part of the statement read.

Another view of the smoke from the fire near James Smith Cree Nation. (Submitted by Wally Burns)

The majority of people evacuated were transported to a hotel by the community's emergency response team and Burns said physical distancing rules were followed. 

"We have our own vans and we spaced them apart. Some took their own vehicles," he said. 

"When they got to Prince Albert, they were educated again in regards to COVID-19. So they know the protocol and process."

Burns said residents stayed in their rooms at the hotel. 

Traditional lands at risk

There are a few other things that are on Burns' mind now due to the fire as well. He said the community has had lots of hits in the past few years. The Husky oil spill in the summer of 2016 greatly affected the community. Now, they're dealing with COVID-19 — and wildfire season. 

"Our community extends into the forest to so I'm just hoping that fire doesn't shift south. If it does, we're going to lose some of the timber that's out there," he said. 

"It's just hitting us really hard."

As for how Burns and his community are dealing with so many things at once, he said the key is banding together. 

"We all have to work together educating our people and ourselves," he said. "[We need to make] sure that we are well-prepared for this virus." 

He said his members have been doing a great job of wearing personal protective equipment and staying home.

The fire is classified as "not contained" on the province's website, which means it's expected to grow in size but suppression action is taking place.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emily Pasiuk

Reporter/Associate Producer

Emily Pasiuk is an associate producer and reporter for CBC Edmonton. She has filmed two documentaries, and reported at CBC Saskatchewan, CTV Saskatoon, and Global Regina. Tips? Ideas? Reach her at emily.pasiuk@cbc.ca.

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