Pandemic threatens to complicate wildfire season

The Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency is warning farmers and landowners to be careful to prevent wildfires and grassfires this spring.

Acting vice-president Steve Roberts said this spring isn’t necessarily drier than any other, but COVID-19 presents additional challenges for residents of the agricultural zone.

“What we’d like to ensure is that our first responders are not unnecessarily tasked with responding to preventable events,” he said.

Given physical distancing orders, firefighters and other responders could be placing themselves at risk of the virus in addition to the physical threat of a fire.

Roberts said fire activity has been low so far. A recent video on social media showed a significant burn near Mortlach, west of Moose Jaw.

“The grasses have started to dry out, temperatures are starting to rise now,” he said.

“That typically will increase our hazards, so we’re advising folks in those parts of the province to be especially cautious.”

Saskatchewan’s fire danger map on April 21 showed mostly moderate to high risk of fire throughout the agricultural zone.

Some areas are still under snow cover and remain low risk, but dry conditions and wind in the south pose threats.

“Very fine, grassy fields are flammable,” Roberts said.

No fire bans are in place. Provincial bans cover only crown land, while municipalities are responsible to implement bans in their individual jurisdictions.

The SPSA said producers should practise safe burning, obey all fire bans and fireproof their property.

This includes reducing dry grass, hay and stubble, creating fire guards when burning and never leaving burns unattended.

Roberts said anyone who wants to burn must contact the Controlled Burn line at 866-404-4911 and contact the local rural municipal office to see if fire bans are in place.

Landowners near the provincial forest need approval from their nearest wildfire base to burn within 4.5 kilometres of the forest and also need to obey bans.

The SPSA also said it’s a good time to teach children about fire safety, and follow good practices such as making sure cigarettes are completely out.

Everyone should be prepared for emergencies as the weather continues to warm up and storm season arrives, Roberts added.

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