The wildfires in Alberta haven’t crossed the border with Saskatchewan, but Saskatchewan officials are preparing for that possibility.
On Saturday, updates in Alberta said the wind was whipping up the fires and two were moving toward the eastern border. However, a cold front overnight slowed the two fires, according to Steve Roberts, the executive director of wildfire management with Saskatchewan’s Ministry of the Environment.
As of Sunday morning, Roberts said the smaller fire was about 22 kilometres from the border, while the larger fire was about 31 km away. The fires are still expected to grow.
“It’ll be the rate that they grow and the ability to control their advance over the next couple of days that will determine if or when they would come into Saskatchewan,” said Roberts.
Weather may not be a help in Saskatchewan on Sunday. Roberts said there’s a widespread chance of lightning, but only a 10 per cent chance of precipitation – though some areas may get scattered showers.
Duane McKay, commissioner of emergency management with the province, said there’s no imminent threat to any communities in Saskatchewan.
“Even if (the fire) hits the (border) we’re still in that neighbourhood of 60 to 70 km away from any settlements that would be impacted.”
The biggest concern the province was dealing with on Sunday was the smoke from the fires. The cooler weather overnight may have helped slow down the fires’ movement, but McKay explained that can produce a lot of smoke which will come in Saskatchewan. By Sunday afternoon, communities in the northwest will be dealing with thicker smoke. If the smoke gets particularly bad, the health regions may order an evacuation.
On the weekend the province was preparing for the fires to get closer. Staff has been flown into the control centre in Edmonton to keep Saskatchewan’s government abreast of the situation, contingency plans are being made, potential fuel is being assessed and removed, and resources are being put into place along the border with Alberta.
“We think that we have a pretty good plan in place. We’re preparing, making sure that all the resources that we require will be readily available, recognizing that a lot of the national resources have been deployed to Alberta,” said McKay.
Roberts explained Saskatchewan teams have been given the latitude to attack the fires before they cross the border wherever they determine would be best.
Saskatchewan’s northern communities had to deal with significant wildfires last year, but that could be a good thing when trying to deal with these fires.
“Should the fire come to the border in any of those areas they will actually come to an area that is devoid of fuel for burning, so it acts as a very landscape-level fire guard,” explained Roberts.
Fires already burning
While eyes across the country are on the fires in Alberta, Saskatchewan is already dealing with its own wildfires. As of Sunday morning, there were 12 active fires, two of which were still out of control.
There continues to be a high and extreme wildfire hazards across the province, including southern areas. Fire bans have been issued for more than 100 areas.
Some grass fires became significant in southern parts of the province, including one in the Qu’Appelle Valley near Neudorf which burned for several days last week.
McKay said that fire was finally put out on Saturday.
“Significant resources were put on there to put that one out. Although there was not a significant threat to infrastructure, it was one of those that was just really have to get at, and needed to be extinguished.”
On Sunday morning, McKay said there were no other significant grass fires. He explained the fire bans seem to be helping with a big decrease in the number of fires in southern Saskatchewan.
“We hope that people will recognize the seriousness of the current weather system and remain vigilant in their guard against fire, or the use of fire, until we either see it green up, or rains.”