Courtesy: Thomas Sierzycki, Facebook

This time last year, leadership in the La Ronge area was making a tough decision to order a mandatory wildfire evacuation.

Thousands of people from the tri-community area of Air Ronge, Lac La Ronge Indian Band, and La Ronge were displaced from their homes for weeks as fire threatened their homes and ended up claiming many. That first day, more than 1,000 northerners ended up on buses bound for Cold Lake, AB as the Red Cross scrambled to find approved accommodations for the large number of people.

For many – including La Ronge Mayor Thomas Sierzycki – July 4, 2015 was the start of a chaotic month. He recalled what it was like being at the helm during such a trying time.

“It was an extremely stressful situation but we’ve come out more resilient and better prepared for future instances,” he said.

Sierzycki was among other leaders who stayed behind to provide updates and do what they could to protect homes during those fires, and noted how exhausting that time was.

There’s a lot to be thankful for in 2016.

“I’m definitely very happy that it rained today. It’s funny how a year, a lot of things can change. We just want to reflect on the gratitude we have to first responders as well volunteers and the citizens who went through the whole process,” he said.

He points out that tough times forged strong connections in the community, where “I can say people are my friends now. We go for regular coffee, have supper, discuss. So it’s amazing what trying circumstances can bring forth.”

Sierzycki added, there were also low points from that time.

“It’s not to say that everything went, well, perfectly, but there has been a process of change and revision from those things to make us better and I think that no one lost their lives is still a highlight of the situation because it was dire across northern Saskatchewan and I think residents and people on the ground really stepped up and I’m very proud of that,” he said.

Since then, La Ronge has committed $50,000 a year for fire guards and other fire prevention measures, up to $250,000. It’s also applied the FireSmart program, and updated Emergency Management plans.