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Sask. First Nations evacuate from wildfires for 2nd time this year

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Red Earth and Shoal Lake Cree Nation leaders have issued evacuation orders due to nearby wildfires.

According to a news release, 440 people from Shoal Lake fled to Prince Albert on Thursday. In Red Earth, 200 “priority one” members at a high risk from wildfire smoke were evacuated to Saskatoon and Regina.

The two First Nation communities are located north of Hudson Bay near the Manitoba border.

According to the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA), the Bell fire in the area has spread to 46,500 hectares. It’s listed as “protecting property” on the SPSA’s website, meaning crews are working to keep the fire away from the Wildcat Hill Provincial Park, commercial timber and Highways 9, 55 and 3.

“An evacuation order was something we did not wish to have to call. It is a very traumatic ordeal for our people, but we need to keep the health, wellness, and safety of all our people front and center,” said Shoal Lake Chief Marcel Head.

“For the second time this summer, we are doing all what we possibly can to assure our people and to give them some measure of comfort in a stressful situation.”

In July, the University of Regina hosted over 450 evacuees from Red Earth and Shoal Lake. Several other communities, such as Southend, also had to evacuate over the summer as wildfires spread across northern Saskatchewan.

So far this year, the province has seen 604 wildfires – double the five-year average of 299.

Red Earth Chief Fabian Head said the community’s emergency response team made air purifiers available to each home with the increased risk of smoky air quality.

“The air purifiers have given our members and residents some relief from the smoke; however, we have been monitoring and assessing the situation,” he said.

The Prince Albert Grand Council’s Saskatchewan First Nations Emergency Management, the Canadian Red Cross and federal, provincial and municipal agencies are providing support to evacuees, said the release.

According to the SPSA, there are 12 active wildfires in the province as of Monday afternoon. Six are listed as not contained.

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