Wildfires grow near Southend and McArthur River mine

By Glenn Hicks
June 25, 2018 - 2:32pm

The wildfire that forced over 700 people to flee the northern community of Southend last week has grown to more than 9,300 hectares in size, but is no closer to the community.

The so-called 'Woods' fire, which is burning south of the reserve, was measured at 5,500 hectares Friday but grew by roughly 70 per cent over the weekend.

Steve Roberts, with Wildfire Management, said the expansion was in the opposite direction, to the south and south east, which are not areas of concern.

“The key concern, from a threat perspective, are the access roads in and out of the community to the north and northeast of the fire,” Roberts told paNOW. “Those flanks have not grown; that’s where crews have been working.”

He said the fire came within four kilometres of the Southend access on Highway 102 and nine kilometres from Highway 905, but both those routes are currently secure. Some rain on Friday and Saturday had “calmed the fire down,” according to Roberts, but he expected more active fire conditions Monday before possible rain and cooler conditions midweek.

On Monday the fire was 13 kilometres from Southend and 15 kilometres from the small town of Brabant to the west. Given the very remote location of the blaze and the tough terrain, crews cut access points to allow for more personnel to be dropped off by helicopter. They were able to take advantage of the weekend weather to create fire guards on the north and western flanks, Roberts said.

Meanwhile, the 'Arthur' wildfire, which is burning close to the McArthur River uranium mine, had grown to about 8,000 hectares on Monday after it was measured at 6,000 hectares late last week.

Roberts said crews are working with Cameco personnel to protect industrial infrastructure at the mine, and were also protecting other high-risk assets such as SaskPower power lines and outfitter lodges that may under threat.

The fire has come very close to the mine.

“It has been as close as one kilometre from our camp and airport,” Cameco spokesperson Carey Hyndman told paNOW. “We’ve been doing some back-burning and have our sprinkler units going. We’re well aware of where the fire is and in good communications with wildfire crews."

One frustration has been the closure of their airport because of the smoke, but Hyndman said they were moving people and goods in by road and through the Key Lake airport.

There are about 70 people on the currently-dormant site, Hyndman said, including 12 wildfire management personnel and 10 of the mine’s own emergency response employees.

“We have enough people to do what we need to do,” she said. “We’re watching and waiting and dealing with instructions from the Wildfire Management crews.”

While there has been some rainfall across the region in recent days, wildfire officials were eager to ask the public to remain vigilant, Roberts said, partly because some of the 55 new fire starts in the last four days were due to human activity.

“People need to be cautious," he said. "We have more fires on the books than we need to be dealing with right now, and we don’t need any more.”

 

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