Premier praises wildfire-fighting volunteers

Scott Moe points to some problem areas of the Tuff wildfire burning near Waterhen Lake First Nation during a media briefing held on May 16 in Prince Albert. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, along with officials from both provincial and federal wildfire management operations, is praising the personnel currently contributing to the wildfire fighting effort. So far, no homes have been lost. Only a small structure that may have been an impromptu tree house has been lost, despite three wildfires burning in the province that are not contained.

In addition to the Rally fire, burning near Holbein, uncontained fires are burning in Meadow Lake Provincial Park near Waterhen First Nation, and in the southwest corner of Prince Albert National Park.

“There is a very concerted effort everyone is involved with,” Moe said during a stop at the Prince Albert Wildfire Operations Centre Wednesday.

“Volunteer fire departments, the RMs and the provincial services we have, every morning they’re on the phone together, and as much as needed in addition to that. The effort is aligned. This is our first significant event of this particular year, and I think the effort is as effective as (it) can possibly be.”

Many of those volunteer firefighters, and even municipal leaders such as RM of Shellbrook Reeve Doug Oleksyn, are farmers. They’re doing what they can during one of their busiest times of year to help with the wildfire effort.

“Doug Oleksyn has been on and off his farm equipment over the past couple of days as he’s trying to get his crop in, and do his duty as a reeve and community member, managing the efforts,” Moe said.

Oleksyn praised the efforts of the local fire department.

“For the municipal side (they’re doing) pretty good,” he said. “It’s volunteers – guys are climbing off of machinery and jobs and taking time to fight.”

He also thanked the police for going above and beyond.

RM of Shellbrook Reeve Doug Oleksyn speaks to reporters about a wildfire burning near Holbein during a May 16 media briefing. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

“The police stayed (in Crutwell), and that was to deter people who were looking for opportunity in the community, which is really nice. We didn’t expect that.”

It’s not just volunteer firefighters who are stepping up. Other volunteers are helping out by using their vehicles to help folks evacuate, or opening their homes and the Shellbrook Senior’s hall to those in need. Others are doing their part to prevent the fires from spreading.

On the north end of the RM of Shellbrook and the northeast side of the RM of Canwood, farmers are helping the national park manage the Rabbit Wildfire, which has sparked some smaller fires outside of park boundaries.

“The stakeholders, the regional land owners in those regions and in the pasture areas were able to provide us actual support to the fire management operations,” said national park fire incident command leader Dean MacDonald.

“The first thing we do is keep the rural areas up to date as to what the actual risk is. (Farmers) were able to help us to use their cultivators to cultivate their fields to break up the fuel continuity across the grasslands there, and they worked very closely with our personnel.”

Residents also helped provide information about where possible infrastructure at risk was located.

MacDonald thanked the team of residents, volunteers and wildfire fighters for their efforts helping contain the Rabbit fire to the national park.

“We want to ensure we acknowledge the contributions, — incident management, the park field units providing support, support from Saskatchewan, Little Red First Nation and Alberta currently on site has been of immense value to us. It really has been a big team effort.”

The same is true in the southern part of the RM. Oleksyn is thankful for all the help that has been received.

“People were … taking time off, fire guards were created … and as far as I know there have been no dwellings lost from either fire, which is unreal.”

Moe isn’t surprised with the way people are stepping up.

“I think it speaks to the strong community and the strong people we have here in the province of Saskatchewan, and the initiative that has been put forward by our professional services,” he said.

“Everyone is moving in the same direction and pulling on the same rope. (It) gives us the best opportunity to ensure we have the least impact.”