The Lakeland area is special because of its remaining wilderness – to live amid this forest, alongside its wildlife, is a privilege. But being in these woods comes with an inherent risk of wildfire. Anyone who spent time in the area during the summer of 2015 will remember the grey haze in the air, the acrid smoke that burned the eyes, the pink sun in the middle of the day. It was an eerie time, with reports of encroaching fires burning out of control around the province. The Canadian Armed Forces were called in to help, plus eight other provinces sent assistance, as did the U.S. Forest Service. Still, 1.7 million hectares of Saskatchewan forest – and the wildlife within those forests – were lost that year.
Wildfires in Saskatchewan have only two causes: lightning strikes and humans. According to the provincial government, about half of Saskatchewan wildfires are started by human activity. This includes campfires; industrial activity; clean-up projects that get out of control; vehicle and ATV exhaust; and arson. Human-started fires usually happen in accessible areas, near communities and roads, which poses a greater threat to people and property. But regardless of how wildfires start, there’s no doubt that weather plays a big role in our ability to manage them.
According to PARC (Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative), University of Regina: “The Canadian Prairies have warmed at a faster rate than the global average and our future climate will be outside the range of our recent experience. Wildfire is expected to increase under climate change. Rather than allocate more resources to suppress fire, a more useful and cost-effective approach is to consider landscape-scale planning to reduce the risk of fire. Saskatchewan, along with other jurisdictions, has adopted a variety of fire management strategies to reduce the risk of wildfire and to protect communities. The strategies include an education and prevention program known as FireSmart. The program will reduce the risk from wildfire regardless of future climate conditions.”
Daryl Jessop is a retired Conservation Officer and Director of Wildfire Support Services with the Ministry of Environment, a long-time resident of the District of Lakeland, and a member of their Environmental Advisory Committee. He explains, “FireSmart is a Canadian program developed by wildlife experts to assist property owners prepare their homes and property through planning, preparedness, and mitigation measures to reduce the risk of damage by wildfire.”
FireSmart is administered by the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA). Detailed and easy-to-follow guidance documents can be found on their website.
For example, homeowners are advised to reduce “surface fuels” around their property such as twigs, leaves, dry grasses, and wood piles. As well, woody shrubs, conifers, and bark mulch are all highly combustible. Deciduous trees and fire-resistant plants are identified and recommended.
Dave Young is a Forest Protection Officer for the SPSA, who manages the Weyakwin Response Area base. “I worked on a crew out of Christopher Lake from ‘88 to ‘96,” he says. “In fact, it was Daryl Jessop that hired me!” The Weyakwin Response Area encompasses Hanson Hill to just south of La Ronge, and Montreal Lake to just east of Big River. They are part of a team doing wildfire threat assessment in the District of Lakeland this season. “We’re trying to do some field management for some of the communities,” says Dave. “What that entails is thinning out the forest fuel types. That way if we do get a fire coming into the community, if it’s a crown fire which is in the treetops, with the thinning it will drop the crown fires down onto the surface fuel which is easier to attack with your ground forces there. Last year we started working at Ramsey Bay up here at Weyakwin. We’re also looking at McPhee, Anglin, Christopher and Emma lakes.” Last summer, Dave spoke at the Legion Hall in Christopher Lake about FireSmart and the Homeowners Assessment which SPSA officers conduct.
“Living and vacationing in the Lakeland area is within the forest and therefore in a wildfire-prone environment, where wildfires will occur,” says Daryl. “There are numerous examples of destruction to communities and property across the country and in the province. The good news is there are things we can do to protect our homes, property, and that of our neighbours. A FireSmart-treated property reduces the risk of damage from wildfire and helps firefighters better protect our homes and property. Be ‘fire wise’ and implement FireSmart.”
To arrange for SPSA staff to provide an individual Homeowners Assessment including recommendations for making your property more fireproof, contact the District of Lakeland office at 306.982.2010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.