It’s been a hazardous spring for western Canada as wildfires continue to burn close to home.
Steve Roberts, Saskatchewan’s wildfire branch manager, said the province has been part of the same weather system hovering over Alberta, making for conditions that fan the flames.
“We currently have a fire ban in place and that will be expanded this morning to basically include all the area north of the Churchill River,” Roberts told Gormley Tuesday.
The fire ban already covers all of Saskatchewan’s forested area from Prince Albert National Park to the Alberta border.
“This is early for us to put on fire bans, but the conditions warrant that; we’re seeing fire numbers in the same range as last year,” he said.
So far, there have been 144 wildfires in the province compared to 130 this time last year.
Roberts said western Sask. is the most “risky area”, as neighbouring fires pose a threat in more ways than one.
“It’s also the area where we’re going to experience smoke from the Alberta wildfire coming in,” Roberts said.
As of Tuesday morning, six active fires were burning in Saskatchewan; all of which were being contained and monitored, according to officials.
Every fire that occurs in Saskatchewan is detected, monitored and assessed. The process looks at what might be affected by the fire, the resources required and what strategy would be best employed to fight it if necessary.
“Every fire is managed differently; they’re reviewed on a daily basis. We have to change the strategy as the weather moves, the fire moves,” Roberts said, adding this year’s fires are being managed and contained quickly, with crews and aircrafts on high alert, leading to smaller affected areas.
He explained crews aim to contain the flames to 10 hectares or less to make the fight an easier battle. A number of the current fires burning in Sask. exceed this limit; however, Roberts said they are not encroaching on population centres or industry.
“In areas where they get larger than that – and especially if they get over 100 hectares – they become difficult to manage because of how weather and fuel affects them, and also they start to demand more and more resources.”
If fires exceed 1,000 hectares or more, such as last year’s fires in northern Sask. and the current situation in Alberta, it becomes “extremely difficult” to manage, Roberts said.
Eight staff members from the branch have been sent to help in Alberta, including a special investigator who is working with a team to determine the cause and origin of the Fort McMurray fire.
Additionally, Roberts said the Sask. team is managing a portion of that fire on the east side, along with continuing to assess the smoke threat along the western part of the province.