07/10/2015 04:31 EDT | Updated 07/10/2016 05:59 EDT

Saskatchewan's Devastating Wildfire Has Serious Consequences For Some

Wildfires have forced thousands of people from about 50 communities in northern Saskatchewan. Many have been out of their homes for two weeks. Some have nowhere to return. Here are some of the stories of people caught up in this unprecedented wildfire season:

A total loss:

Sadie Montgrand scrimped and saved what she could to build her 23-square-metre cabin along the Clearwater River, about 70 kilometres north of La Loche.

It wasn't easy on a social assistance income to buy lumber and have it trucked in to such a remote place, but the 50-year-old started building a year ago.

She finally had things the way she wanted and had moved in many of her things when fire roared up to the river's edge on June 25.

Montgrand fled to safety. She had no time to pack.

A few days later, a family member reported that she and her brother, George, who had a cabin on the other side of the river, lost everything.

"It's gone — nothing," she says.

It was always her dream to move back to the area where she had grown up. Now she doesn't know what she will do.

"Now, I don't really know. I guess I have to start all over again."


Business still brisk

Cora Leung and her husband are catching a few hours of sleep each night on an air mattress in the flower shop attached to their gas station in La Ronge.

If they wake to banging on the door in the middle of the night, they quickly open up.

The couple and their son were declared essential service workers when the town of 2,700 was evacuated last weekend. Vehicles lined up for hours at the Country North Shell to fill up with gas before heading out.

Now the business is serving those who remain — fire crews and other workers working to save the town from the flames two kilometres away.

"It's practically a ghost town," says Leung, who can't see too far down the road because of thick smoke. Sometimes she spots an orange glow in the distance.

Besides buying fuel, people are also picking up cans of soda and energy drinks in the convenience store.

Leung says her family has been through the same thing before. They kept the business open when fires forced the town to evacuate in 1999.

This time, their two cats and a dog are camping out with them.

And they're doing just fine.

"We have no reason to be scared. We're so looked after by everybody here."


A home away from home

They are calling it "Rez Cross."

While thousands of evacuees have been moved to evacuation centres in Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Regina and Cold Lake, about 100, most of them aboriginal, are staying at a shelter set up on the Beardy's and Okemasis First Nation, southwest of Prince Albert.

"We knew there was a need," says organizer Brenda Seesequasis. And people on the reserve wanted to help.

The majority of evacuees are from Hull Lake and others have come after staying at shelters in big cities, she says. They like being somewhere that feels more like home.

Some are sleeping on bed rolls in the arena, while others are staying in tents pitched outside.

"Whatever makes them feel comfortable."

The shelter is collecting donations of clothing and passing them onto evacuees, something other shelters haven't been allowed to do.

People are also getting meals they're used to such as fresh-made bannock and moose meat stew.

Seesequasis says a man who arrived with his wife and two sons couldn't thank her enough after they were fed.

"He had tears in his eyes and he said, 'This is the first home-cooked meal I've had in six days.'"

Other reserves have also contacted her, saying they want to open their own shelters.


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Saskatchewan Wildfires, July 2015