NEWS

Saskatchewan Fire Evacuees Told To Hang Tight, Ignore Social Media Rumours

07/14/2015 02:33 EDT | Updated 07/14/2016 05:59 EDT
Thousands of fire evacuees in Saskatchewan are anxious to return home, but officials are urging them to be patient and ignore rumours.

Information circulating on social media has been a challenge over the past two weeks, as wildfires and smoke forced about 13,000 people from their homes in the north, said Karri Kempf with the province's social services ministry.

She told reporters Tuesday that word about an evacuation order being lifted for Montreal Lake is incorrect.

"People start out with the best of intentions," Kempf said.

"They want to spread the word, they want to check on their family, they want to give people reassurance of their home community. And the struggle is many of the people providing information may be getting that second- or third-hand or they may not be professionals capable of assessing the situation."

Evacuees from Grandmother's Bay reserve were allowed home on the weekend and, after improved road conditions, people from a few other communities not under evacuation have gone back.

Duane McKay with Emergency Management and Fire Safety said staff is still working to determine which of the 50 affected communities remain at risk and have working utilities and road access.

Some people have attempted to get into fire areas to check on their properties, he said, but they need to wait until it's safe.

Although the fires haven't grown, they're still burning, added Steve Roberts with the province's wildfire management branch.

He said the far north has received significant rain but only one to three millimetres have fallen in other areas.

"It will help us moderate fire behaviour but it is not a significant amount that is going to change the size of these fires or the scope," he said.

There were 125 fires burning in the province as of Tuesday morning. The fires have burned nearly 5,000 square kilometres of forest — more than 10 times the average number — and destroyed about 80 homes, most of them seasonal cabins.

More than 1,500 firefighters are in the region, including military.

Late Tuesday, about 200 evacuees staying at Evraz Place in Regina were told that they will be moving to two evacuation centres in Saskatoon. The move is scheduled for Wednesday and buses will be provided.

There was also a brief interruption in firefighting near La Ronge Monday night when a soldier was reported missing. A search was organized and he was found safe six hours later. Officials said he had simply gone into the woods to urinate and got lost.

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Saskatchewan Wildfires, July 2015