High level of danger from dry, windy conditions, rural Sask. fire departments warn

·3 min read
The Foam Lake Fire Department said conditions are dangerous right now, as the snow cover has melted earlier than usual and grass has been dried out by the wind.  (Foam Lake Fire Department/Facebook - image credit)
The Foam Lake Fire Department said conditions are dangerous right now, as the snow cover has melted earlier than usual and grass has been dried out by the wind. (Foam Lake Fire Department/Facebook - image credit)

In one day this week, the volunteer fire department in Wadena, Sask., was called to three separate fires.

"We had everything kind of come together," said Brian Weber, the deputy fire chief for the volunteer fire department for the area around Wadena, about 200 kilometres east of Saskatoon. "The winds got up [and] we got dry conditions out in the field."

Conditions this past Wednesday led to a fire on the Fishing Lake First Nation, southeast of Wadena, quickly burning out of control and a winter burn pit reigniting due to a hot spot.

"Somehow there was a spot still burning underground and it reignited and took out about 20 acres of bush," Weber said. It was approaching a wildlife habitat area, he said, "so we had to get in and stop that."

The Wadena Volunteer Fire Department had three fire calls on Wednesday, two which were out-of-control bush fires.
The Wadena Volunteer Fire Department had three fire calls on Wednesday, two which were out-of-control bush fires. (Wadena Volunteer Fire Department/Facebook)

On the same day, the volunteer fire crew responded to a truck rollover and a semi-truck that caught on fire. It was a busy day for the volunteer crew, which usually gets 50 calls in a year, Weber said.

The current high-risk fire conditions typically last until the grass turns green, he said — and until then, people need to be especially careful.

"Basically, don't burn. Don't throw a cigarette out the window," Weber said. Backyard fires need to be small and contained, ideally screened in, he said.

"Because it's a waste of resources if you're fighting… a nuisance fire like that along the road and you do have a real emergency," he said. "Don't do it ... wait till the grass greens up or we get some rain."

The Wadena area is now under a fire ban due to the dry conditions, and it's not alone. Southern Saskatchewan fire departments in Delisle, Asquith, Montmarte and Foam Lake have been dealing with similar fires.

Another 26 rural municipalities across Saskatchewan and five urban municipalities have issued fire bans as well.

Foam Lake fire Chief Scott Osborne said in the past week, his department has responded to three large grass and bush fires, all of which are believed to be accidental, he said.

"The toughest part about challenging fires in the spring is we can't get our equipment to most areas because the ground itself is wet, but the … grass on top is bone dry," Osborne said. "It's a lot of manual labour."

Those conditions are typical in spring, but have come about a month earlier than usual this year, he said. There's usually some snow cover until the end of April or beginning of May, he said, but the sun and wind this year have brought the danger earlier than usual.

He's hopeful the fire bans curb the wildfires a bit.

"Being that it's so dry on top, even though … [there's] moisture underneath the top grass, the stuff is very, very, dry," Osborne said.

Anyone doing any burning needs to make sure they have a water truck available and should avoid windy days, he said.

"Be prepared for the worst."

The Foam Lake Fire Department has responded to three grass and bush fires so far this week.
The Foam Lake Fire Department has responded to three grass and bush fires so far this week. (Foam Lake Fire Department/Facebook)