07/04/2015 03:28 EDT | Updated 07/04/2016 01:12 EDT

Wildfire overtakes Sask First Nation; unknown number of buildings burn

MONTREAL LAKE, Sask. - Wind-whipped wildfires engulfed a northern Saskatchewan community Friday and burned at least two homes to the ground."Everybody's safe, but we just couldn't take on Mother Nature today," said Edward Henderson, chief of the Montreal Lake First Nation."There was no stopping it — four water bombers, two helicopters bucketing, crews on the ground doing whatever they could, but we just couldn't do anything when the wind picked up."Henderson said when the massive wall of flames was less than a kilometre away, he and other leaders decided to pull everyone — firefighters, volunteers, out of the community, about 250 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon."It was like having a fire pit right in front of you and all around you, we had fires on the east side, we had fires on the south, we had fires on the west side, we had fires on the north, so we booted it out of there."As they left, they saw two houses burn. Henderson said it was terrifying."We lost two houses so far, but material stuff can be replaced, we were blessed that we didn't lose any lives at this time so we're grateful," Henderson said.He added that he and other officials hoped to return to the community Saturday to assess the damage."Hopefully it will be safe for us to go back and see what's standing," he said.A week ago, about 1,000 residents of Montreal Lake were evacuated to Prince Albert due to the approaching fire. Henderson said about 20 volunteers stayed behind to watch over the homes and take care of pets left behind.The province estimates forest fires have forced at least 5,200 people from their homes 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.— By Mary Jo Laforest in Edmonton