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Saskatchewan wildfire triggers state of emergency, evacuation of hospital


BIGGAR, Sask. – Saskatchewan’s fire commissioner is urging people across the province not to have open fires as a wildfire near the town of Biggar sparked a state of emergency and some evacuations.

Duane McKay said crews are assessing what impact a change in wind directions might have on the grass fire but that smoke has been moving away from the community about 90 kilometres west of Saskatoon.

Dozens of patients were moved Tuesday out of the Biggar hospital because of smoke.

Authorities transferred 53 long-term care residents to Saskatoon and eight patients went to Rosetown.

McKay said those battling the fire, including farmers, were also trying to move cattle away from pastureland threatened by the 15-square-kilometre blaze.

No injuries or burned buildings were reported.

“Heavy winds, very dry conditions, have caused that fire to grow very rapidly,” McKay said. “We strongly encourage people not to use fire in any way until … conditions change.”

It wasn’t the only fire burning in the province.

Later Tuesday, RCMP said a fast-moving grass fire near North Battleford was posing a risk to Sweetgrass First Nation, the village of Prongua and Table Mountain.

Mounties asked people to avoid the area because it looked like the fire might jump Highway 40.

The Biggar fire was declared out of control Monday afternoon and a state of emergency was declared early Tuesday by the town and the surrounding rural municipality after the flames came within six to eight kilometres of the community.

Some residents voluntarily left the area, as shelter space was set up at Biggar’s community hall and a recreation complex in the village of Purdue.

Firefighters from four outside communities were helping Biggar and area emergency personnel. The provincial emergency response team was also on scene with staff and equipment.

Farmers were also using their machinery to create fire breaks to stop advancing flames.

McKay said aircraft were to go over the area to help determine the fire’s origin and identify its cause.

“We’re exhausted,” said Biggar fire chief Gerry Besse, after spending more than 20 hours battling flames that officials say had so far burned about 100-square-kilometres.

He said he expects to be working on the fire for at least another day and that crews would focus on securing a perimeter to protect yard sites. “It’s viciously dry.”

Jeanne-Marie de Moissac, reeve of the rural municipality, said emotions were running high.

“We’re not used to this. We’re tinder dry … that old grass just burns like gasoline.”

Copyright (c) 2019 The Canadian Press