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Saskatchewan under province-wide fire ban as uncontained wildfires spread in the north

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The province’s firefighting agency is issuing a province-wide fire ban in the wake of a week-long heat wave, as the hot and dry conditions have contributed to a high fire risk.

Effective at noon on Thursday, the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) said the fire ban applies to Crown lands, provincial parks and recreation sites, as well as the entire northern boreal forest.

"We are asking the public to take extreme caution to prevent wildfires during this time. This includes being cautious using all-terrain vehicles and to report a fire if they see a fire," SPSA vice-president of operations Steve Roberts said in a news release on Thursday.

The ban prohibits any open fires, controlled burns, and fireworks, also includes all land within 4.5 km of the provincial forest boundary.

According to the SPSA, nearly half of the wildfires are caused by human activity — usually starting in inaccessible areas near communities and roads.

Roberts says the ban is meant to ensure lives, communities, and infrastructure are protected.

There are 73 wildfires currently burning in Saskatchewan, and a total of 302 have already occurred this year. The five-year average for this time of year is 211.

In an update to media on Thursday afternoon, Roberts described a number of uncontained fires that had sprung up overnight, threatening electrical infrastructure and access routes.

One of these new wildfires is threatening Highway 102, a roadway that runs from La Ronge to the remote community of Southend, and another called the Wilson fire is posing a threat to the communities of Creighton and Denare Beach, and SaskPower lines that run along Highway 106.

"So we will continue to source that fire and support that fire," said Roberts.

The SPSA currently has air tankers, helicopter support and a crew on the Wilson fire, along with air tankers flown in from Manitoba, he said.

The Wilson Fire has reached an estimated size of 100 hectares overnight, or one square kilometre, says Roberts.

"Both of these fires, to give you a context, started late evening last night, and are already posing significant risks by this afternoon. So that gives you a sense of the current fire situation and the risk of starting new fires in the north," he said.

The SPSA asks all other municipalities, rural municipalities, and communities to examine the fire risk in their area and to consider implementing consistent fire bans to prevent unwanted human-caused wildfires.

As of 1 p.m. Thursday, 20 communities were under air quality warning due to wildfire smoke, which also reduced visibility in the area.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) says wildfire smoke poses a health risk to everyone, regardless of age or pre-existing health conditions.

The provincial fire ban comes as the province is dealing with scorching temperatures and dry conditions.

Saskatchewan has been under a heat warning since Wednesday.

The federal weather service said temperatures rose to 34 C with overnight lows ranging from the mid-teens into the low 20s.

ECCC says the extreme heat will continue into Friday, with a slight cooling in temperatures over the weekend.

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