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Saskatchewan Wildfires Rage, Soldiers Called In To Help

07/07/2015 02:02 EDT | Updated 07/08/2016 05:59 EDT
Emergency officials in Saskatchewan say a large wildfire threatening one of the biggest communities in the north was stable Tuesday, but they feared a shift in wind could change the situation.

The blaze, which had come within 1.5 kilometres of La Ronge, a town of 2,700 people, was one of hundreds burning across Western Canada.

Six hundred soldiers from Edmonton have joined the fire fight in Saskatchewan. Of those, 360 were to complete a condensed day of training before going to work on fire lines Wednesday.

Another 500 troops from Shilo, Man., were ready to be called in if needed.

"They're just getting this one day quick refresher course to make sure when they're out and in the fire zone they are operating safely," Defence Minister Jason Kenney said.

"It's not often the Canadian Army is called upon by the provinces to assist with forest fires but this is a big one for Saskatchewan. We're happy to oblige."

Steve Roberts with Saskatchewan Wildfire Management said once the military had received training, it would be offered to other groups, such as First Nations that want to join the firefighting effort.

He said other Saskatchewan residents with previous training have also volunteered and they will be added to the 600 firefighters who have been working in the north for nearly two weeks.

Fires as well as thick smoke have forced an estimated 9,000 people from their homes in more than 50 communities. About a dozen homes, remote cabins and other structures have been destroyed.

Nearly 4,000 square kilometres have burned in high-priority fire zones — more than 10 times the annual average.

Duane McKay, commissioner of Emergency Management, described fire conditions in the province as "fairly dire," although the biggest of the 113 active fires had stopped growing.

He said the boost in resources was bound to help. A special Skycrane helicopter, believed to be the largest firefighting chopper in North America, had also arrived from Montana to aid a fleet of water bombers and bulldozers.

Special air quality statements remained in effect for much of Saskatchewan as well as northern Manitoba and Alberta and southern British Columbia.

In B.C., more than 1,000 people were tackling 184 wildfires. A smoky haze over Vancouver had improved slightly Tuesday but air quality had deteriorated in the resort community of Whistler.

People from 18 seasonal homes near Sechelt, north of Vancouver, and others in cabins near Port Alberni on Vancouver Island were evacuated. Some people living near Nelson, in the southeast interior, were on evacuation alert.

There was some good news in Alberta, where 165 people forced to flee last week from the North Tallcree First Nation were allowed to return home.

A precautionary evacuation order for Meander River, Alta., was also lifted.

— With files from Bill Graveland in Calgary

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had 400 square kilometres and 182 fires in BC. With Wildfires-At-A-Glance

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