With many northern rural municipalities bordering on northern forests, many reeves and councillors cannot help but think about what this year’s forest fire season will bring.
Richard Carr, a wildland fire research analyst with the Canadian Forest Service, said they were predicting fairly hot and dry conditions for the start of the 2020 fire season. Instead, there have been rainy conditions, with snow hanging on in some areas, resulting in a slow start to the fire season in Saskatchewan.
Current predictions from the Canadian Forest Service say conditions are expected to return to normal in July, with the risk of forest fires rising as conditions dry up.
“Once you get into warmer, drier conditions, or the lightning season through mid-late summer, then I tend to get the increase in activity,” Carr said. “Northern Saskatchewan’s boreal forest… is usually more susceptible to fire. It's pretty normal to have fairly numerous large fires up in that area.”
Ryan Scragg, RM of Garden River’s reeve, said there was some worry with the English fire in the Fort à la Corne provincial forest that some residents of his municipality were going to need to evacuate on short notice. Garden River is west of the fire that destroyed nearly 414 square kilometres of land in the RM of Torch River. A shift in the wind before it was contained could have seen the fire spread in their direction, Scragg said.
Scragg said they were preparing to mobilize farmers with tractors and disc harrows which can help control fires in open areas by creating fire lines and barriers. Much of his RM is open fields so fire containment becomes easier the further away they get from wooded areas.
Timothy McKay, reeve for the RM of Meadow Lake, said the municipal fire crews take a refresher in the spring to prepare themselves for grass fires within the RM. As well the crews also assist the City of Meadow Lake with structural fires when needed.
The RM of Hudson Bay has a history with wildfire devastation, with a large fire in 1980. They were not well prepared at the time, Reeve Neal Hardy said, and never wanted to be caught off guard again. Every one of the six divisions within the RM has a water wagon with extra pumps and hoses available for use, with each RM councillor taught how to use it. The wagons allow for a quick response which can make a difference during a forest fire.
“There are hoses on every wagon. You can get 300 feet with high-pressure pumps so you don't have to waste a lot of water to do a lot of damage to a fire.”
Carr urges all residents to pay attention to fire bans in their area throughout the summer. Things can change from province to province or even from one individual municipality to another and everyone can stay informed to reduce the chances of a man-made forest fire. With COVID-19 causing people to have some time on their hands, now would also be a good time to make sure properties are free of fire hazards, Carr said.
“It's a good time just to make sure that their property is up to fire smart standards. Clear away any dead bushes, debris piles or anything like that that is close to the property, and make sure that vegetation is cut back as well as they can.”
Information regarding the ever-changing fire conditions is available both on the national (cwfis.cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/) and provincial (saskatchewan.ca/fire) wildfire information sites.