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'Get this damn thing out': Sask. man travels into wildfire zone by boat to defend family cabin

A convoy of residents rolled out of Buffalo Narrows late Sunday night as wildfire flames roared near the highway.

"It was really scary. I've never been through something like that," Tavia Shatilla told CTV News.

Shatilla and her nine-year-old daughter Jurnie were among those who finally got the go-ahead to leave the community after waiting hours for an escort to lead them through the flames.

"I couldn't show my fear because of my daughter. But she was okay with it," Shatilla said.

Shatilla and her daughter kept calm by listening to music and taking video of the hotspots they approached. Some of that video can be viewed using the player at the top of this story.

Jurnie, for her part, said she was only a "tiny bit scared."

When CTV News reached the mother and daughter in their Saskatoon hotel room early Monday afternoon, the nine-year-old had yet to sleep since arriving in the city.

Shatilla said they decided to come to Saskatoon — roughly 500 kilometres southeast of Buffalo Narrows — because there were a limited number of spaces in Lloydminster where most evacuees were sent.

"So we thought we would come here and then see how it goes," Shatilla said.

Another resident, Martin Morin, headed in the other direction Sunday night, leaving Saskatoon for Buffalo Narrows to defend his family cabin from the blaze.

With the roads to the cabin closed, he ended up travelling to the cabin by boat.

"So I've been out here since midnight, two hours sleep. I went to bed at four o'clock last night," Morin said.

Morin, his wife and son have kept a water pump and sprinklers running to keep the flames at bay.

Morin, an experienced firefighter, said firefighters had set up the sprinklers and the pump, but the gas that powers the system would have quickly run out.

"There was no extra gas here, we were smart enough to bring gas," he said.

Morin said he wishes the province would have fought the fire more aggressively before it spread.

"Get this damn thing out," Morin said. 

Buffalo Narrows mayor Sandy Ericson issued the partial evacuation order on Sunday morning, asking anyone vulnerable to health complications from smoke inhalation to prepare to evacuate.

According to the northern village, buses arrived at 9:30 to take vulnerable residents out of the community. Shatilla and others taking their own vehicles filed in behind the buses to be led out.

The buses were originally scheduled to leave in the afternoon, but the effort was put on hold after the fire crossed the highway and the road was closed until further notice.

"The fire jumped the road and they had to make fire guards and stuff. And so we never got out of there until 11:00 last night," Shatilla said.

The fire has also destroyed power lines, cutting off electricity.

In an update late Monday morning, SaskPower said power won't be restored in a number of northern communities including La Loche and Buffalo River.

Shatilla said the crews battling the fire have been "amazing."

"They're working steady ... Like they're just trying and trying and trying and this fire is just crazy," Shatilla said. 

In an update to news media Monday afternoon, a Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) representative said it could take a week before it's safe for evacuees to return home.

While the SPSA is providing accommodations to 95 evacuees, SPSA executive director Peter Boniface said there are many more who left in their own vehicles.

"An unknown number of people have self-evacuated and are now staying with family and friends or in other locations and the SPSA is also working to support these individuals as well," Boniface said.

SPSA land operations director Brian Chartrand said the fires are expected to grow in size.

"It's definitely a concern with our forecasted weather, they are expected to continue to grow but hopefully we will have some reprieve with rain. I don't know when that's forecast for but hopefully in the coming week or two," Chartrand said.

He said the blaze near Buffalo Narrows is estimated to be roughly 25,000 hectares in size.

--With files from Tyler Barrow Top Stories


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