By Glenn Hicks
The wildfire burning in the Prince Albert National Park has grown closer to Waskesiu, but officials say the town remains open and there is no immediate risk there.
The so-called ‘Rabbit Creek Fire’ burning in the southwest corner of the park was just 20 kilometres away from Waskesiu Thursday. The fire is now over 31,000 hectares in size, park officials said, with the most growth on the fire’s northern side.
Incident Commander Jed Cochrane told reporters structure protection devices were being deployed around Waskesiu.
“Basically they are fancy sprinklers with large hose to either deploy on homes themselves or in a perimeter around the community,” Cochrane said Thursday.
In addition to the sprinklers he said ‘fire smart’ procedures were underway, including removing flammable material adjacent to properties and thinning out fuels in areas of higher risk. He described the wildfire as “aggressive and fast-moving” and said the blaze presented a challenge because it was advancing through areas that were very hard for ground crews to access.
As for the Waskesiu town site, Cochrane said evacuation planning is currently being discussed, just in case. Thirteen helicopters, two air tankers, five pieces of heavy equipment and 187 personnel are involved in the firefight, he said.
Meanwhile, Park Superintendent David Britton said park staff did not ignore any fire bans when performing the controlled burn that sparked the wildfire. The controlled burn got out of control May 6, he said, when wind speed increased beyond the forecast.
“We had the appropriate prescription to carry out the controlled burn,” Britton said. “At that time there were no fire bans in place in the surrounding areas.”
A new website has been set up by Parks Canada offering the latest information on the wildfire.
Golf course carries on amid wildfire planning
The Waskesiu Golf Course has remained open for business as the wildfire continues to grow.
Course general manager Tyler Baker told 650 CKOM it was almost hard to believe there was a wildfire the size of Saskatoon so nearby.
“You do see the fire crews and then talking with the crew that put our sprinklers up on the clubhouse, you watch them test it out and you’re going ‘yeah, it is real.'”
Baker said they have a plan in place to evacuate should it become necessary, but until then, the course will continue operating as normal.