NEWS
07/04/2015 17:35 EDT | Updated 07/04/2016 01:12 EDT

More homes burned after firefighters had to flee Saskatchewan community

MONTREAL LAKE, Sask. - Firefighters are returning to a northern Saskatchewan community to soak down homes after they were forced to flee flames that were fanned by strong winds.Edward Henderson, chief of the Montreal Lake First Nation, says three houses and a trailer burned while his community was empty Friday night.That's on top of the two homes that were on fire when he and everyone else who was fighting the fire had to leave on Friday evening.About 20 volunteers had stayed behind to watch over the homes and take care of pets left behind when most of the community's 1,000 residents were evacuated a week ago.Provincial officials say they returned to Montreal Lake on Saturday and that they, along with local community members, are still assessing the damage.Henderson says one of the structures that's burned is a four-plex, which will leave multiple families homeless."The four-plex, originally it will hold four families, but in our case there's usually two or three families per unit," Henderson explained Saturday from Prince Albert, where many of the people from his community have spent the past week.He said about 15 families in total are affected.Steve Roberts, of Saskatchewan's environment ministry, said firefighting has resumed in Montreal Lake after Friday's evacuation."We just evacuated them because of the extreme fire behaviour. They have been taking them back to the community to continue suppression efforts," Roberts told a media briefing Saturday.Premier Brad Wall visited the La Ronge area, which is south of the fires, on Friday. But by Saturday, the mayor of La Ronge tweeted that the flames were getting too close to stay."Residents are advised to leave with a sense of purpose and urgency, but not panic," Thomas Sierzycki said in the tweet.Sierzycki said the decision was made by local councils shortly after noon on Saturday in order to take advantage of daylight. The closest fire to the community was only eight kilometres away, he said, and weather wasn't favourable for attacking it.He said the highway south out of town is smoky and there are small fires along the way. Highway crews, he said, would be monitoring junctions.The province said in a news release that village of Air Ronge and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band were also being evacuated. Evacuees from there, as well as La Ronge, would be brought to Cold Lake, Alta.The government said "additional assets" were being brought in to protect homes and infrastructure in the area.Many had already left due to heavy smoke that has blanketed La Ronge for the past week.Roberts said the smoke could reach into southern Saskatchewan on Saturday.He said three structures also burned overnight Friday in Wadin Bay in another fire, and one structure burned in the community of Weyakwin.The province estimates forest fires have forced at least 5,200 people from their homes in the past week.