Wildfire season slow, but savings eaten up by COVID and flood response, province says

The English Wildfire, as seen from a range road south of Weirdale, Sask. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

The province has seen less than a third of the usual number of wildfires this year, the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency announced Friday.

The agency held a press conference to update reporters into wildfire and flood relief efforts. Emergency COVID-19 response also falls under the agency’s purview.

According to Steve Roberts, the agency’s acting vice-president of operations, there have only been 125 wildfires so far this year. The five-year average is 405.

Additionally, there has only been one large fire — the English fire that burned in the Fort a la Corne forest east of Prince Albert this spring.

The number is one of the lowest in the last ten years.

Mild, wet weather and the pandemic, which kept people inside, are credited for the decrease.

“The issue we have though is those (weather) conditions are not favourable to areas of high water, which we have been experiencing across the north,” Roberts said.

“As an all-hazard agency, the public safety agency has diverted our wildfire crews to assist communities in the north to address flooding throughout the summer season.”

In addition to keeping fire conditions from getting extreme, the wet cool weather combined with COVID-19 to minimize the number of people travelling and creating wildfire risks, Roberts said. The number of human-caused fires is lower than average.

However, he warned, that might increase in the coming weeks.

“We will see an uptick in people using the forest for things like hunting, and active harvesting. We still would hope that people are being extra cautious when they’re participating in those activities so we don’t cause human-based fires,” Roberts said.

Fires from agriculture are less common than those caused by lightning or other human activity, Roberts said, but they tend to spike in the spring and fall.

“Agriculture harvesting is big right now and some of the activity that causes fires is combining … in the southern part of the province.”

With Saskatchewan seeing few fires, but large wildfires burning in the states of Washington and Oregon, the province is in a position to send help.

Eight staff members and three aircraft have been sent to the US states to aid in firefighting.

Despite the lower number of wildfires, the province hasn’t saved money from the public safety agency, as flood and COVID-19 response has eaten up any budget savings.

Roberts said it’s too early to tell what those numbers look like for 2020.