POLITICS

Wind in Saskatchewan clearing some smoke, getting planes in air to fight fires

07/03/2015 10:53 EDT | Updated 07/03/2016 05:59 EDT
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says wind is proving to be a "double-edged sword" in fighting wildfires in the northern part of the province.

Wall met Friday with emergency officials and community leaders in La Ronge, and also stopped to thank a group of firefighters for their efforts.

He said wind was threatening to spread the flames, while at the same time clearing enough dense smoke to get some firefighting aircraft off the ground.

"I think they are hopeful to use the assets in the air a little bit more," Wall said.

"This is an amazing effort that's happening ... we won't be able to thank them enough."

The province estimates the fires have forced at least 5,200 people from their homes since in the past week.

Fifty-one towns, villages and reserves around La Ronge and La Loche have been evacuated or partially-evacuated as a precaution due to either nearby fires or harmful smoke.

More than 600 firefighters are in the area, including some from Ontario and New Brunswick.

Crews were managing to keep fires out of the communities.

Officials had earlier reported that several remote cabins and one home south of La Ronge had been destroyed. But Daryl Jessop with the province's Wildfire Support Services clarified that the house burned down several weeks ago in an unrelated fire.

Environment Canada issued special air quality statements for the entire province, as well as much of Manitoba and northern Alberta.

In northern Alberta, where wildfire conditions were listed Friday as extreme, flames were threatening the remote community of North Tallcree First Nation.

About 200 people from the reserve were evacuated Thursday as a precaution.

Evacuees from northern Saskatchewan have been put up in hotels and evacuation centres in North Battleford, Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina.

A pregnant woman staying at Evraz Place in Regina went to hospital earlier this week and delivered a healthy baby, said Merv Tippe with Health Emergency Management.