Provincial fire response a concern for La Loche mayor

By Thia James
July 2, 2015 - 12:31pm Updated: July 2, 2015 - 1:42pm

With at least four fires burning within five to 20 kilometres of the Village of La Loche, its mayor says she’s concerned about a “lack of resources” to fight the fires.

“It is unfortunate because the fires, are still, in some areas that are not considered in the red zone through the ministry’s (of environment’s) policies, they’re still burning out of control,” Mayor Georgina Jolibois she said.

She said the longer the fires burn, the more the rest of Saskatchewan will feel its effects. Smoke from the northern fires is now reaching the southern part of the province.

On Wednesday, Jolibois said she was feeling positive about the one fire burning closest to the community. Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management (SERM) sent in crews to fight the fire.

When it comes to what should be done, Jolibois made note of some of the advice she’s received from the community’s elders who’ve been involved in fight forest fires, which contrasts with the ministry’s thinking.

She said they have advice on how to get rid of the underground fire, she said.

On Tuesday, speaking more generally about the province’s firefighting strategy, Scott Wasylenchuk, provincial fire centre manager, said right now they’re concentrating on fires that are threatening communities and lives.

He said they have fires in the back country, which are areas of timber that are “lower priority right now.”

“We’re not concerned about trying to save when we’re trying to save and secure communities,” he said.

There have been evacuations of people from the village of La Loche, mostly for medical reasons, Colin King, deputy commissioner of the province’s emergency management and fire safety branch, said on Tuesday.

He said the community is facing a significant smoke threat and that a “vast majority” of La Loche has been evacuated.

Although the majority of the village’s residents have been evacuated, several hundred remain in the community.

“I believe about 1,500 got on the bus, we put them on the bus, transportation and we shipped them out to North Battleford, Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina, we have families there,” she said and added there were many others that drove south in their own vehicles.

Jolibois told CJNB that her concern now is that doctors and nurses have left the community, leaving behind only emergency medical services protection.

But according to medical health officer James Irvine, there has been a “staggered” evacuation of the health staff in La Loche.

“Vulnerable people first with family members in a vulnerable situation and there’s still some nurses there and later when there tends to be a skeleton staff of firefighters, etcetera, there’ll be an EMT team there as well,” Irvine said.

On Tuesday, he said the nurses would be departing later that day.

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On Twitter: @thiajames

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