Preparing for ‘average to above-average fire season’

In any given year, SPSA says about half of the wildfires in Saskatchewan are human-caused. The rest are generally caused by lightning.

As wildfire season begins, the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) is asking people throughout the province to be fire-safe at their homes, farms and campsites this spring and summer.

“With winter hopefully behind us, we now look at the weather and wildfire risks for the warmer seasons,” said SPSA president and fire commissioner Marlo Pritchard. “Even though the snowmelt is still under way, the province is still experiencing areas of moderate to severe drought.”

Pritchard said the SPSA expects a late start to fire season for most of the province this year, with cooler-than-normal spring temperatures mitigating the risk of wildfire starts and slowing their spread.

However, southern Saskatchewan, the southwest corner of the province in particular, remains at higher risk of grass fires.

“For the agricultural region (in the south of the province), the fire weather always starts earlier,” said SPSA chief meteorologist Henry Dagenais. “And right now, we still have the drought conditions, especially in the southwest and the central area between Saskatoon and Regina. So it’s very dry.

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“The fire danger will reduce when the crop is greening up and there is more moisture in the crop. But when they’re growing up and still not green, that’s when the fire danger is the most prevalent.”

In the months ahead, the cooler spring conditions SPSA predicts are expected to lead into a long, hot summer.

“Almost all weather models are in agreement that the entire province will experience warmer-than-average temperatures throughout the months of May through October,” said Pritchard. “The above-normal conditions mean the province could experience an average to above-average fire season.

The SPSA has amassed a fleet of seven Bird Dog planes, six amphibious tankers and four land-based tankers. Ninety per cent of the agency’s seasonal staff from last year have also returned, have already completed the majority of their training and are ready to be deployed.

In any given year, about half the wildfires in Saskatchewan are human-caused, the SPSA says. The rest are generally caused by lightning.

“And at this time of year, the province typically does not experience lightning, so fires that start this early are often human-caused,” Pritchard said. “We urge everyone to take extra fire precautions during the spring and early summer months.”

The SPSA says all of the 13 currently active wildfires in the province were caused by people.

This story was originally published in the Saskatoon StarPhoenixIt is republished under a Creative Commons license as part of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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