‘We cannot afford to be reactive’: northern leaders begin planning for 2024 wildfire season

Photo by Tina Pelletier. The PAGC Wildlife Task Force meets in Stanley Mission to begin planning for the 2024 wildfire season.

Northern leaders and wildfires experts met in Stanley Mission on Tuesday to prepare for what is expected to be a busy wildfire season.

The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Task Force includes First Nations leaders and wildfire experts. Task Force chair PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said low snowfall levels in the north have created dry conditions, and created an imminent wildfire threat.

“The prospect of a warmer wildfire season, coupled with diminished snowfall, underscores the necessity for preventive action to ensure the well-being of our communities,” Hardlotte said in a press release. “The protection of our territories and our people is paramount, and we cannot afford to be reactive.”

The Canadian Forest Service has forecast an unusually warm beginning to the 2024 wildfire season, Hardlotte said, which necessitates a state of “high alert for 2024.”

The 2024 wildfire season resulted in several major evacuations and led to severe air quality degradation. Task Force member Senator Peter Beatty said northern wildfire fighters will be prepared for whatever the spring and summer throw at them.

“These men and women are not only well-trained and experienced, but ready to assist across provinces, reducing the need for international support,” Beatty said in a press release. “It’s time we acknowledge and utilize our homegrown talent to its fullest potential.”

Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) Vice-President of Operations Steven Roberts said the organization has pledged to work closely with the PAGC. He said they’ve learned from past years of heavy wildfire activity in the north, and are committed to community-driven wildfire management partnerships.

“We’re aiming to reinforce our defences and encourage community-led initiatives in wildfire management and prevention,” Roberts said in a press release. “Working with PAGC is crucial. Together, we will strengthen our defences against the wildfire threat.”

As of Oct. 19, the SPSA had responded to 493 wildfires in Saskatchewan, a number well above the five-year average of 388. More than 55 per cent of those fires were caused by humans, the SPSA reported. The fires forced evacuations in Buffalo Narrows, Ile a la Crosse, La Ronge, and Denare Beach.

Roughly 18 million hectares of land were engulfed during Canada’s last wildfire season.