University of Regina hosting hundreds of northern Sask. wildfire evacuees

The University of Regina is hosting more than 450 people from the Shoal Lake Cree Nation and the Red Earth Cree Nation who have evacuated their homes due to wildfires in the area.

Vera Young, a community member of the Shoal Lake Cree Nation, said they started arriving at the university of Friday after heavy smoke forced leaders to evacuate.

Young said it was the worst smoke she’s ever experienced from wildfires.

“The smoke was getting thick and every time people would step outside of their houses they could smell the smoke,” she said. “Even with their [air conditioning units] running, it would still get in.”

Some community members were brought to other centres including Prince Albert, Nipawin and Melfort.

Young said they are all thankful for the support from both the University of Regina and the Canadian Red Cross, who is also helping.

“The community leadership of Shoal Lake and Red Earth, and the Prince Albert Grand Council have handled this evacuation and we’ve followed their lead,” Luc Mullinder, the vice president of the Canadian Red Cross in Saskatchewan, said.

The Red Cross helped with lodging, food, safety checks and providing cash cards to evacuees.

The Chief of Shoal Lake Cree Nation Marcel Head said as of Tuesday, the air quality has improved, meaning some members are able to return home again. He said residents with respiratory conditions may be asked to wait longer until it clears up more.

As of Tuesday, there are still more than 100 people from the communities staying at the university dorms in Regina.

“Some of the families were homesick on Saturday, missing family [members] that they left back home that had to stay back to look after their houses and their belongings,” Young said.

The University of Regina said staff members from several departments have stepped up to accommodate the unexpected visitors and to help them feel as comfortable as possible.

COVID-19 protocols are in effect for those staying in the school’s two residence towers, which includes masking in indoor public places and enhanced cleaning.

Those staying on campus have access to recreational equipment and facilities, including the pool and play spaces for children.

Young said she’s hopeful most people will be able to head home on Wednesday.

She said although they are all eager to return, they have been finding the positives in this emergency situation.

“For some, it was a good weekend and couple of days to see their family they haven’t seen in a year,” she said.

The University of Regina said it has advised the Red Cross, who is organizing the initiative, that it cannot accommodate any more evacuees at this time.