In what was an unprecedented and record-breaking wildfire season, the province’s commissioner of emergency management says it showed how quickly the province could respond to a disaster of that magnitude.
“We combined all government services into one command but what we are facing is continual increase in the scope of disasters and as we look at the impact, it’s incumbent on us to continue to reach out and look at all the capabilities that we need to draw in in these situations,” Duane McKay said.
Speaking on the final day of the Saskatchewan emergency planning association conference in Saskatoon, McKay said this summer’s wildfires pushed emergency services and planner to the brink, forcing the province to rely on towns and cities to help out, which they did.
“With the wildfires, the scope of what we saw, Saskatchewan did need to reach out to its First Nations and municipalities and ask for assistance and ultimately to the federal government and we need to make sure we have the ability to reach out and draw resources in,” he said.
In the wake of the fires, McKay said the province is pushing to sign a memorandum of agreement for Northern Emergency Management Assistance Compact (NEMAC); a multi-aid agreement between four Canadian provinces and 10 U.S. states located on or near the Canadian-U.S. border. McKay said the memorandum will provide mutual aid in the event of a large-scale natural or human-caused disaster.
But the deck was stacked against provincial firefighting efforts, in that the ground was dry from little to no rain coupled with high winds that helped grow the fires. However, despite what the weather conditions were like, McKay said everyone in emergency planning agreed no lives would be lost, no matter what.
“We don’t have control over Mother Nature and what she throws at us but this is about people and making sure that people are safe that they have levels of support and we’ll deal with Mother Nature,” he said.
The total cost of the firefighting effort is pegged at $100 million and with 99 properties lost with no human casualties. McKay said that speaks to the effectiveness of the emergency plan and fire safety, but there’s still room for improvement.
“We’re going to do an honest look and see what we have done, look for the gaps, lessons learned and implement the particular pieces and we do that after every operation to see what went well, what didn’t,” he said.
At the moment, McKay couldn’t say if any lingering wildfires were burning in the province, just that any residential and commercial areas were safe.