February 23, 2016

Government Improves Wildfire Response and Emergency Planning in Saskatchewan

The Government of Saskatchewan is taking immediate steps to improve fire safety and emergency management in the province.  This includes investing in longer-term protection measures for northern people following an engagement process with communities, First Nations, local leaders, industry and residents affected by the province’s historic 2015 wildfire season.

“We are grateful for the feedback shared by residents, business owners and community leaders, who were affected by the wildfires,” Government Relations Minister Jim Reiter said.  “The Government of Saskatchewan will continue to work with communities to improve on preparedness and operations planning that will help us in case of future emergencies.”

“I am pleased we are able to implement a number of measures to help prepare for the upcoming wildfire season and beyond,” Environment Minister Herb Cox said.  “These initiatives demonstrate our government’s continued commitment to the safety of Saskatchewan people, communities and infrastructure.”

The Government of Saskatchewan is making immediate and significant improvements in its wildfire response and emergency management based on the feedback heard, including:

  • eliminating the 20 kilometre zone as a strategy to prioritize wildfires around communities.  Wildfires threatening human life, communities and infrastructure continue to be the top priority, with every fire assessed to determine the most appropriate response, based on the level of threat;
  • hiring an additional eight seasonal firefighting crews in northern communities;
  • engaging with provincial partners and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to review evacuation processes and clarify evacuation roles and responsibilities between the province and local authorities;
  • improving training capacity;
  • purchasing new equipment;
  • upgrading weather stations;
  • enhancing analysis and communications systems; and
  • clarifying policies and roles for large-scale emergency situations.

Given that much of northern Saskatchewan has experienced warmer temperatures and below-normal snowfall this winter, the Government of Saskatchewan will also bring one CV580 air tanker and one birddog aircraft into service sooner than normal, and recall wildfire crews two weeks earlier than usual to ensure full preparedness for the 2016 season.  The Ministry of Environment, working with local communities and the federal government, has also undertaken fuel mitigation measures in 15 locations to thin and remove vegetation to reduce wildfire hazards.

The changes being implemented are a result of the provincial review process held over the past six months.  This process included hosting nine northern engagement meetings with elected leaders and community officials across northern Saskatchewan; examining written submissions from affected industries and businesses; and reviewing feedback provided by more than 600 residents through an online survey.

Further ministry engagement with northern leaders and local and regional officials will be important as we continue to learn from this experience.