Buffalo Narrows orders partial evacuation as Sask. wildfire spreads closer to community

The 25,000-hectare fire spreading near the northern village of Buffalo Narrows, Sask., as photographed early Sunday morning from inside the community. (Pamela Gardiner/Facebook - image credit)
The 25,000-hectare fire spreading near the northern village of Buffalo Narrows, Sask., as photographed early Sunday morning from inside the community. (Pamela Gardiner/Facebook - image credit)

A northern Saskatchewan village has ordered a partial, voluntary evacuation as a rapidly spreading wildfire threatens the only southern exit from the community.

"Highway 155 is the only way in or out of the community," said Buffalo Narrows Mayor Sandy Ericson.

While there is a road that leads north out of the community, Ericson said the road doesn't lead to many locations beyond La Loche, which was placed under an evacuation order for several days in the first week of May.

The blaze, just south of Buffalo Narrows, spanned about 9,690 hectares on Saturday morning. As of Sunday morning, the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency said it had reached 25,000 hectares — larger than the province's largest city, Saskatoon.

Buffalo Narrows is about 335 kilometres northwest of Prince Albert.

In response to its growing size the village, which is under a state of emergency, issued the evacuation order to people with chronic health issues, seniors and families with children under two years old.

She said some people have been stranded on the side of the road since late Saturday night as the roadway has been closed from Buffalo Narrows nearly to Beauval, to the southeast of the village.

She said both people returning to the community — and leaving — are going to be escorted through the fire, including essential services.

The village of Île-à-la-Crosse contacted Buffalo Narrows, Ericson said, to offer food and accommodations for residents stuck in their area.

Ericson said the fire grew last night and jumped across Highway 155 but is currently not at risk of burning homes or infrastructure.

"It's been a long night," she said.

Highway 925 to Dillon, just northwest of Buffalo Narrows and south of Buffalo River Dene Nation, has also been closed.

The First Nation community is undergoing its own evacuation efforts.

Submitted by Sandy Ericson
Submitted by Sandy Ericson

Chief Norma Catarat said a wildfire is six kilometres away and has jumped Highway 925.

It has also taken out power poles, knocking out power to several communities north of Île-à-la-Crosse, including both Buffalo Narrows and Buffalo River Dene Nation.

SaskPower does not have an estimated time for when those repairs will be completed as of Sunday evening.

She said four bus loads of people from the community have been sent to Lloydminster and while she's exhausted she's grateful for the support being provided to the community.

The community has set up shelters that avoid the exceesive smoke from the nearby wildfire.

Submitted by Norma Catarat
Submitted by Norma Catarat

According to Ericson, Buffalo Narrows is prepared to evacuate but doesn't have a bar set for when that call could be made.

"It's all about the wind, the wind keeps shifting," she added.

Ericson expected buses would be ready to to transport residents to either North Battleford or Saskatoon Sunday afternoon with the public safety agency guiding the convoy.

It is unclear if the community was able to embark on that trip.

According to the provincial public safety agency, the fire is being attacked with crews, heavy equipment, helicopters and air tankers. It is one of five fires in the province that is not contained.

Ericson said the community is providing assistance fighting the wildfire.