Canadian army called in as Saskatchewan fires force 13,000 to evacuate

Mon Jul 6, 2015 7:23pm EDT
 
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(Reuters) - The Canadian military has been called in to help fight wildfires in the Western province of Saskatchewan, where 112 active fires have forced the evacuation of more than 13,000 people and threatened several remote towns on Monday.

The provincial government said more than 1,000 soldiers are on their way or already in the Prairie province, with some 600 to be trained as firefighters and on the front lines as early as Wednesday. The Canadian Armed Forces said up to 1,400 personnel could be sent.

Hot dry weather has fueled an extreme fire season in Saskatchewan, with nine new fires started in the past 24 hours, provincial fire center manager Scott Wasylenchuk said.

He said arson is also suspected as a cause of some of the fires.

As of Monday, there have been 574 fires in Saskatchewan this year, compared with 205 by this time last year. Wasylenchuk said 112 are still actively burning.

"It's a significant fire season for us, it has started early and has not let up ... and we expect continuation of that," he said.

One of the biggest evacuations is around the town of La Ronge, roughly 600 km (370 miles) north of the provincial capital, Regina, where a fire is active just 3 km outside of the town, the provincial government said.

About 5,000 of the evacuees will be housed in the town of Cold Lake in the neighboring province of Alberta, with the remainder being moved to shelters around Saskatchewan.

Wildfires are also raging in the Pacific Coast province of British Columbia, blanketing Vancouver with smoke and haze. The province's government said there are 180 fires burning, including 18 major fires. Eight communities are under evacuation order.

(Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Peter Galloway)

 
Firefighters tackle a wildfire near the town of La Ronge, Saskatchewan July 5, 2015 in a picture provided by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Government Relations. REUTERS/Saskatchewan Ministry of Government Relations/Handout via Reuters