Wildfire kills power to homes in several communities in northern Saskatchewan

‘The temperature dropped to below zero and the gas all the stores shut down including all the gas stations so everyone ran out of gas,’ explains Cathy Wheaton Bird

A wildfire in northern Saskatchewan knocked out power to numerous communities, including many First Nations, who remained without power until Thursday night and some not until this Friday morning.

The Cloverdale fire, as it’s being called, is over 5,000 hectares and is now considered contained.

It’s one of three active fires burning in the province, with the largest fire having started Monday afternoon on the outskirts of Prince Albert.

Communities like Montreal Lake Cree Nation, Little Red First Nation, LaRonge, Air Ronge and Stanley Mission went without power for days.

The north only has one transmission line and fire damage affected communities as far north as Grandmother’s Bay, which is 700 km north of Regina.

The Lac LaRonge Tri communities that consist of the town of LaRonge, northern village of Air Ronge and all six Lac LaRonge Indian Band communities had to set up emergency shelters to keep people warm since there was no power since Monday and the temperature dipped to -3 C

Cathy Wheaton Bird who lives by herself near LaRonge had to keep warm in her car.

“The temperature dropped to below zero, and all the stores shut down including all the gas stations, so everyone ran out of gas,” said Wheaton-Bird. “Nobody could go shopping because, of course, all stores are electronical, digital so no one could do transactions.”

The communities declared a state of emergency on May 18 because of prolonged power outages, no water and sewer backup.

“I basically had nothing here, I had no power, I had no running water, I had no flushed toilet. I couldn’t even get a drink of water, so then I started using the water from my rain barrel as my water, and I was using my camping stove as my stove.”

Wheaton-Bird added that many neighbours checked on her and everyone made sure everyone was OK, including sharing gas.

On top of the fire, 90 households were also on isolation during the outage due to COVID-19.  Emergency shelters were set up and community members volunteered to cook for Elders and those who needed meals.

SaskPower spokesman Joel Cherry told APTN News the one transmission line that serves the north was damaged because of the fires.

“The northern part of the province definitely does provide unique challenges for power restoration efforts, difficult terrain geography for sure. A lot of our customers in the north are served by only one transmission line,” said Cherry.

By 9 p.m. Thursday night SaskPower restored power to most of the north. Stanley Mission, Grandmother’s Bay and Hall Lake were without power until Friday morning.

The mayor of LaRonge, Colin Rathushniak, said it’s time to put pressure on the province

“It’s time to take this to a higher lever speak to the ministers and start looking at the infrastructure and putting some bigger picture sort of thought into making sure this doesn’t happen again.”

The city of Prince Albert had power the entire time even though the fire that caused power outages in the north is on the northeast outskirts of the city.

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