Biggar, Sask., declares state of emergency after grass fire

The rural municipality and the town of Biggar, Sask., issued a state of emergency Tuesday morning after a large grass fire filled the area with smoke.

A water bomber has been called in to battle the out-of-control blaze, which has been burning since Monday afternoon — covering roughly 1,500 hectares and threatening farm buildings. 

"If we don't get it contained, it's going to get real bad," said volunteer firefighter and farmer Rob Danychuk. "With the wind switching, it's still blowing to our vulnerable side."

Provincial officials said firefighting efforts were hindered after winds blew the fire into rough, wooded terrain.

Dry conditions and high winds have made a large section of western Saskatchewan very susceptible to fire. As of Tuesday morning, 37 rural municipalities across the province had issued outdoor fire bans.

"We would strongly encourage people not to use fire in any way until conditions change," said provincial fire commissioner Duane McKay. "Fire conditions in these areas are extreme."

As a precaution, eight acute-care patients and 53 long-term care residents were moved out of the Biggar and District Health Centre to other beds in Rosetown and Saskatoon. An emergency shelter, set up at the Biggar Community Hall for people with respiratory problems, was closed after winds shifted, blowing smoke away from the community.

Fire officials said there had been no injuries from the fire and firefighters were able to keep the flames away from homes.

Volunteer firefighters were kept busy all night, dealing with high, shifting winds.

"It got really large really fast," said Danychuk, who battled the flames through the night. "It was a pretty large front for a volunteer fire department to try and put out."

Kayle Neis/The Canadian Press

Scary situation

Ted Craig, manager of the local Co-op store, said he's never seen such a large fire burning so close to his community.

"We've never had a major fire," he said. "It's always been on the top of people's minds but it's never really happened."

Craig watched as the fire crept closer to town Monday night. 

CBC

"You could see that there was very hot air," he said. "It was glowing."

Out of fear of the flames, he eventually shut the store down and moved expensive merchandise out of the building. However, he stayed open for as long as he could to supply fire crews as they beat back the flames.

"It was busy in here," he said. "We tried to help out the people that were here."

For now, local officials are hanging their hopes on the weather.

"Some rain today would be nice," said Mayor Ray Sadler. "But we're in daylight now, not night. I feel a lot safer for our men and women that are out there and we're very confident that this will end well."

Town administrators have set up a command centre to relay the latest information to people in the area. Many farmers have donated their machinery to plow fields to starve the fire of fuel from neighbouring fields.

A local Hutterite colony had reportedly donated thousands of sandwiches in response to the effort.

People looking for help can contact the Canadian Red Cross at 1-888-953-3463.

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Grass fire west of the Battlefords

The RCMP are also warning people about a fast-moving grass fire west of the Battlefords, about 120 kilometres northwest of Biggar.

The fire poses a risk to the Sweetgrass First Nation, Prongua and residents near Table Mountain, according to a news release from the RCMP.

The fire is currently north of Highway 40, but RCMP say it could cross the highway if winds increase.

The public is being asked to avoid the area until further notice and to be prepared in case the fire grows.

The Department of Highways is restricting traffic in the area while the Battleford Fire Department and Sweetgrass Fire Department are on the scene.

Most of southwest Saskatchewan remains under an extreme fire risk.