Number of wildfires continues to grow in Saskatchewan

·4 min read
This photo shows smoke from a forest fire near Cigar Lake uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan in the beginning of July.  (Submitted by Moriah Dyck - image credit)
This photo shows smoke from a forest fire near Cigar Lake uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan in the beginning of July. (Submitted by Moriah Dyck - image credit)

Rebecca Sylvestre has her bag packed in case her community is evacuated.

The former firefighter is watching closely as wildfires burn around her home community of Turnor Lake, around 330 km north of Meadow Lake.

"We are surrounded by fires," said Sylvestre.

"You think about your children, you think about your homes…. How do you rest good at night when you think, if the wind picks up, is this fire going to come toward us?"

Three fires are currently active around her community, she said. One is six kilometres away on an island across the lake, one is in the neighbouring community of Clearwater River and one is near Highway 155 north of Buffalo Narrows.

The smoke has cleared due to some rain in the area, said Sylvestre, but she is worried that if the wind picks up it will come back again.

"My son has asthma, so he's inside most of the day," she said.

"During COVID already, he was inside all year. This is hard on him again."

Sylvestre is worried about what will happen to her community if the fires reach Turnor Lake.

107 fires active in the province

As of Tuesday afternoon, 107 fires were active in Saskatchewan, up from 93 early Monday afternoon.

Five of them were contained, while 29 were not contained and expected to grow in size.

The rest were either being monitored regularly to assess the risk in the area (55 fires), or they were active and the focus was on protecting things like infrastructure and cabins (18 fires), according to the province.

Government of Saskatchewan
Government of Saskatchewan

Father and uncle trying to save the family cabin

Sylvestre said she is frustrated with the situation.

Currently her father and uncle are out trying to fight a fire themselves to save the family's cabin, which can only be accessed by boat and quad.

"They paid out of their own pockets to get to this cabin to save it," she said.

The two men are clear-cutting around the cabin so the fire can't reach it, according to Sylvestre.

Both her dad and uncle are in their early 60s.

"I got a text yesterday saying they're OK," she said.

"I don't know how else they are."

Submitted by Helene Hebert
Submitted by Helene Hebert

Sylvestre's family cabin is not the only one in northern Saskatchewan being threatened by the fires.

Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Chief Karen Bird wrote on Facebook that she has lost her cabin to a wildfire near Deep Bay.

Government petition

Sylvestre is working on a petition asking the Government of Saskatchewan to address policies around fighting wildfires.

"Saskatchewan says it doesn't have a let it burn policy, but they do have a policy where if a fire comes 20 kilometres near a community ... they will go extinguish it," she said.

The 20-kilometre firefighting policy was criticized in 2015 when wildfires threatened towns and villages across northern Saskatchewan. The policy used to prioritize the fighting of fires near communities, but only if they were within 20 kilometres.

On Monday a government official said this policy has not been utilized or in effect since 2015.

"We action all fires based on their threat to values communities and that sets our priorities," said Steve Roberts, vice president of operations for the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency.

"Every fire is based on a set of priorities to human life, critical infrastructure, communities and natural resources. So based on that grid, we will action the most pressing, threatening fires first and then get to the other ones as we have resources available."

Traditional land is burning

Sylvestre was a firefighter herself for 15 years.

She said she doesn't understand why the government lets the fires come so close to the communities and burn all the land.

"Where are all these planes and choppers and everything? I haven't seen one in so long and we've lost most of our traditional campground already."

She wants to speak up to do something for the next generation and their future.

"We don't have very much traditional land to hunt and trap on," she said. "Our animals are suffering out there."

So far there have been 335 wildfires this year in Saskatchewan, according to the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency.

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