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‘Extremely worrying’: Sask. NDP sounds alarm on wildfire season

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Drought conditions that persisted since summer and warmer-than-average temperatures in Saskatchewan are raising fears of another significant wildfire season.

In a letter to the Public Safety Minister on Wednesday, the provincial NDP’s public safety critic Nicole Sarauer, environment critic Jared Clarke, and forestry critic Aleana Young sounded the alarm on the upcoming wildfire season and ongoing severe drought situation in the province.

“Past trends suggest that the second year of an El Niño cycle is hotter and drier, meaning the potential for wildfire could be greater in 2024,” the opposition said in the letter.

“Already, severe, and moderate drought conditions exist over much of northern Saskatchewan as of January 31, 2024. With very little snowpack in the boreal forest, conditions look extremely worrying.”

The Saskatchewan Public Safety Association (SPSA) says it expects that fire risk will be high leading into the spring and summer because of low precipitation and snow cover.

“Officials have been in contact with community leaders and emergency management specialists to improve community preparedness and resiliency,” SPSA said in an emailed statement.

SPSA says it will continue to monitor and plan to mitigate the risk.

The official opposition says many people are concerned about the drought conditions that currently exist in northern Saskatchewan and the potential economic consequences for the forestry industry.

A wildfire burning in northwestern Saskatchewan in early July, 2021, came close to a group of people on a canoe trip who had to be airlifted away. (Kelly Kohlert/Facebook)

Saskatchewan started a late winter this year with above-seasonal weather.

Parts of Saskatchewan have been experiencing their warmest winter days on record with temperatures in December and January about 9 degrees above the average.

According to Environment Canada, 94 high temperature records were set in Saskatchewan in December.

A look back to Sask. last year's wildfires

In 2023, Saskatchewan’s wildfire season was record-breaking – with more than 1.9 million hectares of land scorched in the province. Beating the previous record of 1.8 million hectares set in 2015.

Province-wide, 493 wildfires burned, far surpassing the five-year average of 388.

According to the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, over 2,700 people were forced to evacuate their communities and over 40 structures were lost over the 2023 wildfire season.

There were no deaths or injuries reported.

A wildfire burning in northwestern Saskatchewan in early July, 2021, came close to a group of people on a canoe trip who had to be airlifted away. (Kelly Kohlert/Facebook)

Burning for an early start

While it’s still mid-winter, some provinces are already seeing wildfires spreading.

Warmer-than-usual temperatures and below-average precipitation resulted in Alberta declaring a start to its fire season in early February.

There are 148 active wildfires in Canada with 94 burning in British Columbia, 53 in Alberta, and one in New Brunswick, according to the latest figures from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre

Out of these active wildfires, 138 of them are under control and two remain out of control.

As of Wednesday, there are no new fires recorded by the Canadian forest fire centre.

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