National fire fighting strategy: Supplies and training key, officials say

Forest fire management officials in Saskatchewan are offering suggestions on a national strategy to support firefighting efforts. The province has been through an intense period of forest fires in the north that has seen thousands of people temporarily displaced and the deployment of unprecedented numbers of fire fighters.

Officials offer ways to support fire fighting efforts

The skull of an animal, possibly a dog, was among the charred ruins found in parts of Montreal Lake, in northern Saskatchewan, when a forest fire threatened the community. Six homes were lost due to fire. (Dann McKenzie/CBC)
A bicycle and car among the debris of damaged property in Montreal Lake. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)
Forest fire management officials in Saskatchewan are offering suggestions on a national strategy to support fire fighting efforts. The province has been through an intense period of forest fires in the north that has led to thousands of people being temporarily displaced and the deployment of an unprecedented number of fire fighters.

According to the most recent update from officials, 112 fires are burning in the province. A total of 1,600 people, including crews from the military, are fighting the fires.

There has been some relief as rain has fallen in some areas, which has allowed some of the most populated communities to lift evacuation orders.

Prior to the return home, an estimated 13,000 people had left 50 different communities in the north finding shelter in Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Regina, North Battleford, Cold Lake and elsewhere. While some found places to stay with family or friends, thousands were registered in evacuation centres.

Officials said the return home will take several days and noted the shelters will remain in operation for those whose communities are still in danger and people who would be vulnerable to smoke.

Precise numbers relating to who was returning and who remained away were difficult to assess, although as many as 7,000 people could be returning to the La Ronge area. An estimated 2,000 people from that area were expected to be back home by Friday night. Buses were scheduled for Saturday morning to start the return of many more.

On Friday, Saskatchewan officials coordinating efforts relating to the fires spoke in support of developing a national strategy to combat forest fires.

A key part of the strategy is coordinating how resources, especially fire fighting equipment can be shared.

One suggestion is to create a national supply that can be used by whichever part of the country is in need.

Saskatchewan official Steve Roberts, from wildfire management branch of the province's environment ministry, said finding equipment has been a challenge.

Steve Roberts, from Saskatchewan wildfire management. (CBC)
He noted that many provinces needed resources at the same time this year and they ran out of some items in some cases, leading to a scramble.

"We also went to manufacturing and said we need to make emergency orders for this equipment and they either supplied what they had or began manufacturing more for us," Roberts said Friday.

Roberts also spoke about the importance of training and how the support of the Canadian Forces can be augmented.

He noted that some soldiers were given training in Prince Albert before moving into the fire zones.

"We have determined that [training] package is viable across Canada and we've turned that material over to the military as a resource," Roberts said. "They can train people, train reserves at that military standard and then if BC calls or Ontario calls, they would know exactly how to provide that training even before they deployed them."

Also on Friday, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall noted that other premiers were on board with Saskatchewan and BC's idea to have the federal government play a role.

"We need to be prepared in the event that this situation happens again in the future, and I believe that partnering with the federal government will help us accomplish that goal," Wall said in a statement.

"We are grateful to all of those who have assisted Saskatchewan during this unprecedented fire season," Wall added, noting that professional and volunteer firefighters from many places contributed to the battle.


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