LA LOCHE, Sask. – As dense wildfire smoke lifted from the northern Saskatchewan village of La Loche, local leaders considered the next steps forward as forest fire season progresses. The acting mayor of La Loche, Kevin Janvier, said last summer “was definitely a wakeup call.”
A special air quality statement was lifted Tuesday, after multiple days of heavy smoke and ash resulting from wildfires in Alberta.
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But that’s not the worst the village has ever seen.
Forest fires near La Loche forced evacuations in the area, beginning June 26, 2015. Complete repatriation happened on July 21 of the same year.
“We got a little experience from that,” Janvier said.
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Village office staff is preparing people with written evacuation instructions. Suggestions include: keeping vehicles “fairly full of gas,” packing healthy snacks and deciding ahead of time where pets can go.
When people were forced to leave their homes in the community of about 2600, La Loche volunteer fire Chief Derek Herman stayed behind.
“To just kind of monitor the houses in case they catch on fire, we’d be right there to put it out. That was our role,” Herman said.
Six members of the volunteer fire department patrolled the community under heavy smoke.
“Last year was bad. The fire was all around us. Mostly, the smoke was thicker. So that was the problem we had,” Herman said.
Last year’s fires likely burned enough wood to prevent a comparable wildfire this year, Herman said. La Loche also receives fire protection from bountiful muskeg and lakes bordering the village to the east and west.
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While Herman hopes no one in his community is forced to evacuate, one of its residents has already been displaced by forest fires this year.
Ashton Janvier was in La Loche Tuesday, but works in Fort McMurray.
“You pack up personal belongings. Like things that mean the most to you,” Ashton Janvier said.
He said his co-workers are all in good spirits, but have received no indication when they’ll be able to return to work.
As of Tuesday morning, wildfires in Alberta had not crossed the Saskatchewan border, according to provincial fire officials.