Close call as grass fire nears First Nations centre

Officials are assessing the damage after a large grass fire swept through the Wanuskewin Heritage Centre grounds near Saskatoon on Monday.

Officials are assessing the damage after a large grass fire swept through the Wanuskewin Heritage Park grounds near Saskatoon on Monday.

The flames from the rapidly advancing fire came very close to, but did not damage, the interpretive centre, which is home to First Nations art and artifacts.

"The fire was within 30 feet of the building," said Dana Soonias, the CEO of Wanuskewin Heritage Park. "It was an emotional rollercoaster yesterday."

One of the bridges in the park sustained fire damage and some teepee poles were destroyed, Soonias said.

As the fire drew closer to the main building, some of the more valuable items were taken outside for safekeeping, he said.

Fire officials said after the fire was reported at 1:47 p.m. MT, fire crews and equipment from Saskatoon, Aberdeen, Dalmeny, Delisle, Martensville, Osler and Warman were brought in.

The interpretive centre was threatened by fire a number of times throughout the afternoon, but concerted efforts by all the different fire departments saved it from the blaze, the Saskatoon fire department said.

It took almost five hours, but by 6:33 p.m. the fire was under control. Wanuskewin Heritage Park is about three kilometres north of Saskatoon.

Although the building avoided disaster, the fire caused "significant damage" to the surrounding grassland, the fire department said.

Conditions are still dry and firefighters are on the alert for more grass fires.

The Saskatoon fire department was called to a second fire the same afternoon on Konihowski Road in the northeast corner of the city.

After fighting that fire for 2½ hours, the blaze was under control shortly after 7 p.m.

With both fires, the cause is unknown, the fire department said.