Wildfire risk "significant" in the North: Sask. fire commissioner

By Nigel Maxwell
May 5, 2018 - 8:00am

The 2018 wildfire season is already off to a hot start, thanks to dry, windy conditions and a rapid melt.

As of Friday, there have been 72 fires so far this year in Saskatchewan, well above the five-year average of 41.5. Duane McKay, the province's commissioner of emergency management and fire safety, said conditions in the North are still extremely dry.

"This year we went from very cold temperatures to very warm temperatures very rapidly," he said. "The risk is fairly significant right now."

One of the ongoing fires burning is located north of Pelican Narrows. McKay said the boggy conditions make it tough for fire crews.

"Those are very difficult fires to action, and they will probably burn for many years but certainly there will be a fire watch in that area to ensure that they stay as ground fires and don't come to the surface," he said.

With hot and windy conditions in the forecast for the weekend, McKay said people need to be mindful of the dangers. He encouraged people who are cleaning up their yards to be aware of flammable materials such as stacked wood, and encouraged people who go out on their quads to avoid parking in long grass which can easily ignite from the hot exhaust.

The 2015 wildfire season may go down as the worst on record in the province's history. Over 100 fires threatened numerous communities and left a path of destruction. Since then, the province has rolled out several initiatives to better their response, including having a situational awareness team monitor all risks, whatever they may be. This year, the province is also introducing the single-engine air tanker program. McKay said arrangements will be made with operators of crop-dusting aircraft to be called in to assist ground forces.

"We have not used them yet, but we are working out the protocols so they will be active this summer," he said.

McKay said 26 pilots have been trained so far, with requests for additional training to be done this summer and fall.


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