Wildfire rages near Maple Creek

Fire crews are making headway on a raging grass fire near Maple Creek, in southwest Saskatchewan, officials say.

Farms evacuated as fire moves east, fanned by strong wind

A large grass fire, fanned by very strong winds, burns north of Maple Creek. (Submitted by Darcy Dietrich)

Fire crews are making headway on a raging grass fire near Maple Creek, in southwest Saskatchewan, officials say.

The wild fire is burning north of the Trans-Canada Highway and led to the evacuation of at least two farmyards.

Late Tuesday night, local fire chief Keith Stork told CBC News the western edge of the fire was under control and crews were able to stop the fire from advancing east. It was stopped about five kilometres north of the Trans-Canada, near Highway 21.

The fire blazed through several farmyards, although there were no reports of injuries.

Stork said crews were tending to flare-ups and expected to be working through the night.

"We're getting lots of flare ups," Stork said. "We still have winds gusting up ... so what we're getting is these fingers burning out from the burnt spots."

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If you have images or news tips about the fire, you may send them to sasknews@cbc.ca 

"It's a wildfire.  It's goin'," Barry Rudd, the mayor of Maple Creek, told CBC News earlier on Tuesday night. "We've got fire departments from every village around here for 30, 40 miles."

Rudd said fire crews had to contend with fierce wind gusts and a lack of water.

"Can't get enough water," he said. "And the wind blowin' and stuff.  It's ... it's bad."

Smoke and haze filled the sky around Maple Creek. (Submitted by Darcy Dietrich)

Rudd said the fire may have started near a line of CP Rail track and had jumped across several grid roads in the area.

Wind gusts were 50 to 70 km/hour and the weather office of Environment Canada issued a wind warning Tuesday night saying gusts in the area could reach 90 km/hour.

At the height of the fire-fighting effort, some 300 people were involved.

Stork estimated the line of burning grass stretched for about 12 kilometres, but noted it was not moving toward Maple Creek and the town of around 2,200 was not in any immediate danger.

Officials also told CBC News that the Trans-Canada Highway remained open in the area.

Volunteers mobilize

Locals told CBC News it was the largest wildfire they have ever seen and fire crews could be on the scene throughout the night.

"I can see clouds of smoke rising," Irene Ahner, who lives on a farm near Maple Creek, told CBC News. " There's smoke to the south of us. Wind is blowing all over the place. Sometimes, it's just totally solid grey in that direction."

Ahner said her husband Derald had joined the volunteers to battle the blaze and to ensure any farmyards in the path of the fire were safe.

The province also sent in fire-fighting crews from as far away as Prince Albert.

Stork said an emergency response centre was established in the Maple Creek town hall and local restaurants and church groups helped out by making sandwiches for the fire fighters.

"It hasn't come as far as the creek yet," Ahner noted. "And that might be able to stop it."

Maple Creek is about 350 kilometres southwest of Regina.


With files from CBC's Molly Thomas and Candace Holmstrom