Fires in both northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan caused highways near Flin Flon to be shut down late this week. While Manitoba Highway 10 has since reopened, Saskatchewan Highway 106 - the Hanson Lake Road - is still blocked off.
Highway 106 has been closed off in at least two areas due to nearby forest fires, including police blockades at the junction with Highway 135 - the road to Pelican Narrows and Sandy Bay. The blockades were officially put in place Friday morning.
According to the Saskatchewan Highway Hotline, Highway 106 is closed off from the 106 and 135 junction to about 15 kilometres past the junction with the Deschambault Lake road.
Coming up from the south, Highway 106 is also blocked off about 30 kilometres north of Smeaton and the junction with Highway 55. Drivers needing to come north are asked to use Highway 120 through Candle Lake as an alternate route. The area north of Smeaton near Narrow Hills Provincial Park is now under threat from the Harding fire, which has grown to over 14,000 hectares as of July 16 and is growing toward the park's southern tip.
A fire that began north of Highway 106 has jumped the highway, causing the closure. The Forsberg fire, which is now about 400 hectares, is now burning on both sides of the road. The fire was first reported July 15 after a lightning strike and is currently considered to be "not contained" by the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA). Several other fires are burning in the area, including the Pond fire, which has jumped over the gravel road between Highway 106 and La Ronge and the Wapa fire, which is burning south of Wapawekka Lake. Both fires are still burning as of July 17 and are considered by SPSA to be "ongoing assessment."
Residents in several northern Saskatchewan communities, mostly in central and western areas - Dillon, Grandmothers' Bay and Southend residents have all been evacuated from their home regions, along with people at the Whelan Lake area north of Candle Lake. Crews with SaskTel and SaskPower are working to restore services to other communities affected by the fires, with some power and phone lines and poles falling victim to the flames.
SPSA vice president of operations Steve Roberts said in a July 16 conference call that non-essential travel to the north should be avoided due to the fire risk.
“We have put out a SaskAlert asking the public to curtail non-essential travel to the north,” said Roberts.
The Highway 10 shutdown was due to a fire starting near Neso Lake Thursday evening. The fire began July 16 at Highway 10, near the Paradise Lodge turnoff. First reported around 5:30 p.m., water bombers took out part of the fire while ground crews and helicopters assisted. The highway was briefly blocked off by RCMP and conservation officers until around 7 p.m., when traffic began to be allowed through.
The next day, the fire began to flare up again, with more water bombers, ground crews and helicopters used to end the blaze.
The provincial government announced in a Twitter announcement July 16 that flare-ups were being fought at the so-called "Bakers Lake" fire. No threats to communities or cabin areas nearby were expected, but heavy smoke in the area caused visibility issues for drivers and residents.
As of July 16, the fire was considered "out of control" by Manitoba Conservation and Climate and had reached about 11 hectares in size. While initial investigations led officers to believe a stray spark or cigarette may have started the blaze, it is now considered to be natural in cause, not human-caused.
Highway 10 is currently open as of July 16, though smoke and heat advisories are in effect for some northern portions of the road.
The two closest large fires to Denare Beach and Flin Flon are still burning as of July 16, but each is still far from the communities. The Alir fire, located on the west shore of Amisk Lake near Muskeg Bay, has grown to 5.456 hectares in size as of July 17. The SPSA has the fire currently marked as "protecting values", meaning the fire is still active and efforts are underway to protect cabins, infrastructure and places of historical significance in the area. The burn has continued toward the north, still along the west shore of the lake.
Meanwhile, a similarly sized fire is continuing to burn north of Flin Flon, around Kississing Lake. The WE038 fire has reached 6,000 hectares in size as of July 16 and is still considered to be "out of control" five days after it was first noticed. At its nearest point, the fire is about 30 kilometres away from Flin Flon and several large lakes, particularly Kisseynew Lake, stand between it and Flin Flon.
No property damage or injuries connected to either fire has been announced.
Both Manitoba and Saskatchewan has reported an unusually high number of fires this year after weeks of hot weather and little rain.
Saskatchewan has already reported 398 forest fires this year, almost twice as many as the province’s five-year average. A total of 147 fires remain burning as of July 16, with almost all of those fires burning in the north. Thirty-three of the fires are listed by SPSA as “not contained”.
In Manitoba, 272 total fires have been reported – more than were reported throughout all of last summer and almost enough to match totals from 2019’s entire fire season. Of those 272 fires, 120 are active as of July 16.
- with files from Larissa Kurz, SaskToday