Wildfire evacuees in northern Saskatchewan head to Regina

Molly Herman says all she could do was cry as she and her three young children fled from La Loche, Sask., early Friday morning as a nearby wildfire threatened the northern community.

Standing outside a Regina hotel, Herman said she’s weak and tired after she and dozens of others took a bus to the provincial capital for shelter and support.

“You could just see flames in the air, like a block away behind my house … I was literally shedding tears while I was packing my babies,” Herman said.

“The smell was exhaustively strong. I’m just praying dearly, God, that our homes are saved and that everybody’s safe. We don’t need fire. We need lots of rain.”

Residents of La Loche and the Clearwater River Dene Nation have been forced to leave as a 266-hectare wildfire burns in the region.

Steve Roberts, vice-president of operations for the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, said the forecast is hot and dry for the next 72 hours and there’s a high hazard for new fires.

Roberts said all fires currently burning in the province are caused by humans and would be investigated.

He said there are 13 active wildfires in the province, six uncontained.

Roberts said at least 147 people have been evacuated from La Loche and have arrived in Regina, but an unknown number of people have also left on their own.

No one has been injured, he added.

La Loche Mayor Georgina Jolibois said no homes have burned, but some sheds that store hunting equipment have.

Jolibois, who has stayed behind, said if the fire doesn’t grow on Friday, the community could be in good shape.

“These last couple of days have been extremely chaotic and very difficult for many because the fire was very, very close,” Jolibois said. “The fires were literally at the doorsteps of two neighbourhoods in the community.”

Staff with the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency have brought food, bottled water, diapers and comforters to dozens of evacuees arriving at the downtown hotel.

Herman said she’d been reminded of 2015, when a fire drove thousands from their homes.

She said she had to flee during the wildfires that year.

“I was hurting to see elders being removed,” Herman said, adding that her dad was moved from the hospital in La Loche to a home care facility in Meadow Lake.

“It was kind of sad but then it’s OK because my sister lives in Meadow Lake, so he’s near with my sisters.”

Herman said she doesn’t know how long she and others are to stay in Regina.

She pleaded for people to leave the La Loche area if they haven’t done so already.

“It’s not a fun thing right now. It’s not a vacation everybody is going on,” she said. “It’s an emergency.”

Jolibois said she’s been impressed with how crews have managed to keep the fire at bay.

“They’ve been working non-stop and they have been superb,” she said. “I do believe that in the north, when we send our local firefighters out, they are very good at what they do.”

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