Saskatchewan crews fighting more than 100 wildfires, more hot weather in forecast

·3 min read

REGINA — As Saskatchewan deals with an intense wildfire season, the province is looking at bringing in more firefighters to relieve the crews currently on the line.

Fire crews are fighting more than 100 wildfires in the province. So far this year, the province has seen 354 wildfires — nearly 150 above the five-year average.

Steve Roberts, vice-president of operations for the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, says this week's weather forecast offers no reprieve.

"The weather in Saskatchewan is going to continue to be mainly hot and dry," he said Wednesday. "There will be isolated storm systems that will pass through — nothing significant.

"The small systems that we've been seeing for the last number of days are producing a slight amount of precipitation, but they are also producing lightning, which is giving us new fire starts."

In northern Saskatchewan, dozens of homes have been evacuated as fires burn close to communities.

Evacuees are currently being sheltered in North Battleford and Lloydminster. The agency has also been co-ordinating bus transportation out of some communities.

Portions of Highways 102 and 106 are under threat from multiple fires and may need to be closed if the situation worsens.

Because of the extreme fire risk, Roberts said a provincial fire ban will remain in place for at least another three to five days.

The agency said many firefighters in the province have been working for two or three weeks straight.

"We're going to have to provide our crews an opportunity to get a couple of days off, get rested and get refreshed before we can put them back on the line," said Roberts.

According to the agency, the province employs a total of 240 firefighters, as well as 85 crews in northern communities. At this point, "all of those resources are currently engaged on ... fires," he said.

The province is looking to hire residents with firefighting training from northern communities and borrow staff from local fire departments.

Roberts said local firefighters can help keep a more contained fire under control, which would free up provincial crews that may be needed elsewhere.

The province is also asking for resources from outside of Saskatchewan.

But a hot, dry wildfire season throughout Western Canada has made that more difficult.

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, which helps co-ordinate resource sharing between agencies, says provinces are having to make hard choices between helping their neighbours and keeping their fire crews close to home.

"Currently there is fire activity or potential for fire activity in most agencies from Ontario westward," the centre said in an email. "This situation is making it very difficult for these agencies to loan their resources."

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened the Incident Response Group to discuss wildfires and extreme weather throughout Canada.

The federal government says it is committed to monitoring the situation and providing resources as needed.

Evacuees who need to access government assistance, redirect their benefits to a new address or who have lost documents during the evacuation can call the Service Canada Outreach Support Centre at 1-800-O-Canada (1-800-622-6263).

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 14, 2021.

Julia Peterson, The Canadian Press

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