Premier Brad Wall made a trip to northern Saskatchewan on Tuesday to see the wildfire efforts first hand, but wasn’t able to go as far as he hoped.
Wall wanted to touch base with firefighting efforts in Prince Albert and La Ronge. When he made it to Prince Albert, however, visibility conditions had grounded flights to the north.
At the Prince Albert Municipal Airport air tank base, he spoke very highly of the efforts.
“It was very impressive to go to the fire base here and see the response that’s been coordinated,” Wall said. “Really, this is a province-wide issue, obviously the smoke’s made it that.”
Over 500 people are fighting 108 fires which continue to overtake the north.
“I just want to thank all of those who are responding,” he said.
Wall said so far no infrastructure has been destroyed, but they are focusing in one direction. He also brought more news of evacuations, specifically because of smoke.
“We have heard from the Prince Albert Grand Council today that they’re going to be evacuating those at risk –health related evacuations– today through southern Saskatchewan,” Wall said. “We could be upwards of 4,000 or 5,000 by the end of the day.”
This means Prince Albert and Saskatoon will be even busier.
“It also means we’ll be using the evacuation centers that have been set up,” he said, detailing many larger centres in Regina, and smaller ones in North Battleford and Swift Current.
Affected residents can go to any evacuation centre and if they’re full they’ll be given hotel accommodation.
“Obviously housing is key,” Wall said. “We want to make sure people are safe and warm and out of the elements, after that, we want to make sure there’s care.”
“We want to be able to help people, right from counselling, to health care that they need, [to] social services concerns.”
In this time of need, he also said he encourages people to help out and volunteer if they’re able.
“Saskatchewan pulls together like no other place I’m aware of, and we really need to do that right now in terms of these people that have been displaced from their homes,” Wall said.
He also said he was grateful for the help from other provinces.
“This is a strength of Canada, that we come together, and we help each other respond,” he said. “Saskatchewan has been there when we’ve had relatively quiet forest seasons and we’ve been able to help in other jurisdictions across the country and frankly, in the United States as well, recently in Colorado.”
Soon, he said assistance will arrive through an international agreement with the State of South Dakota. Those firefighters will fill in for Cypress Hills’ crews in the deep south-west so those crews can move to the north where the wildfire situation is more serious.
When asked about the cost of the fire efforts to the province, Wall said it hasn’t been calculated officially. He said they’re definitely through the firefighting budget for the year, but he isn’t concerned.
“We’re not going to worry about that right now,” he said. “We have a strong fiscal position in this province.”
“We’re going to deal with this, we’re going to make sure people are safe, we’re going to fight this fire.”
Saskatchewan NDP Leader Cam Broten went up to La Ronge early in order to beat the uncertain conditions.
Today, he met with Lac La Ronge band leadership, as well as fire and emergency personnel. He said he was impressed with how Chief Tammy Cook-Searson has been handling the issue.
“It’s about making sure that the immediate needs and safety of everyone is well taken care of, that’s the concern now,” Broten said. “In the days ahead it will also be about looking at the policies that this government has when it comes to fighting forest fires to make sure that they’re as effective as they need to be.”
He added the government should review its policies to make sure the province is prepared for every emergency.