Thousands evacuated as wildfires continue to rage
Wednesday, July 1, 2015, 9:40 AM - Thousands of people in Saskatchewan are forced to spend Canada Day away from their homes, thanks to ongoing wildfires that have also driven down air quality.
Around 3,000 people have been evacuated from several communities in the north of the province, and are currently in evacuation centres in Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, North Battleford and Swift Current.
But Premier Brad Wall told the Canadian Press on Tuesday that the number could be as high as 5,000, and the province has already burned through its entire firefighting budget for the year.
Wall was forced to cancel an aerial tour of the affected areas, due to visibility issues from the dense smoke, which has combined with that of fires from Alaska and the Northwest Territories to blow down into the United States as far as the Midwest.
That oppressive smoke prompted Environment Canada to continue its air quality advisory for the entire province of Saskatchewan, mirrored with similar advisories in the Northwest Territories and parts of Alberta, although Manitoba is no longer included.
"Smoke near the ground may cause potentially high health risk conditions," Environment Canada says. "The smoke is expected to persist over the next couple of days as winds will remain from the northwest and little to no precipitation is expected to flush out the smoke and haze. Conditions may be somewhat better today as winds shift slightly more to the west."
The smoke is making for dim skies and health risk. Photo: Brenda Gawluk, Saskatoon, Sask.
Intense heat has gripped the west for days, and although it is not as bad on the Prairies as in B.C., which marked 64 heat records over the weekend, it has contributed to dry conditions to raise wildfire risk to extreme levels.
It's not hard to see why Saskatchewan has depleted its wildfire budget. By Tuesday, 522 wildfires had been recorded so far, compared to 186 in 2014. There were 108 active fires, including 68 larger than 100 hectares.
Manitoba, meanwhile, is dealing with 76 active fires out of 267 total so far, but Alberta has had a huge season in terms of volume: More than 100 active fires were burning on Tuesday, with 1,170 in total so far this year.
Potent storms rolled through Alberta on Tuesday, sparking flash-flooding in Calgary, but region-wide, storms brought gusty wind and plenty of lightning, not helping the situation.
"Thunderstorm risk pushes into Saskatchewan and Manitoba today, and a long-range low will ride over the ridge, bringing a cold front through the Prairies for the weekend, with a significant cooldown," Weather Network meteorologist Tyler Hamilton says.
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