Saskatoon

'It's horrible': Well-known wildlife preserve and ski complex burns in Biggar, Sask., grass fire

The Argo Bush wildlife preserve and cross-country ski complex has been seriously damaged by a large grass fire near Biggar.

Large fire roughly 60 per cent contained, community still working to protect farm properties

Fire crews watch a water plane spray over to control a wildfire near Biggar, Sask., on Tuesday. (Kayle Neis/The Canadian Press)

For years, the Argo Bush wildlife preserve has been a place for people near Biggar, Sask., to ski and embrace wildlife.

This week, the thick forest was seriously damaged by fire and a cross-country ski complex has burned to the ground.

"We're real sad about it," said Jeanne-Marie de Moissac, reeve of the Rural Municipality of Biggar. "It's horrible."

Volunteer fire fighters have been battling a large grass fire in the area since Monday afternoon. Firefighters tried to stop the blaze from entering the preserve, but were unable to.

"The ski chalet and the whole recreation area was completely surrounded by bush," said de Moissac. "They couldn't get close enough to save it. It was too hot."

The forest in the preserve is so thick that a herd of bison escaped from a farmer's field several years ago into the area and hasn't been seen since, de Moissac said.

"There are generations of wild boars living in the bush," she said. "There's nothing like it in the province. It's going to take a long time to come back."

The Town and R.M. of Biggar issued a state of emergency Tuesday morning after smoke from the fire flooded the area. The Biggar and District Health Centre sent eight acute-care patients and 53 long-term care residents to Saskatoon as a precaution.

The fire has covered roughly 1500 hectares and was 60 per cent contained as of 6 p.m. CST Wednesday. 

Dry weather continues to create serious wildfire risks across the province. The provincial fire commissioner said areas between Meadow Lake and the U.S. border were under a significant fire threat, with 85 rural municipalities declaring outside fire bans.

Volunteers Laura Kowalchuk and Cheryl Desrosiers keep watch over a mountain of donated food to support volunteer firefighters. (CBC)

'Absolutely heartwarming'

Meanwhile, a small army of volunteers are doing everything they can to support firefighters as they attempt to get the flames under control.

Volunteers Cheryl Desrosiers and Laura Kowalchuk have been sifting through a mountain of donated sandwiches, muffins and plates in the Biggar Community Hall. Donations have been pouring in from across Saskatchewan.

"It's almost like the province has embraced us right now," said Desrosier. "This is where the help is needed, and we're getting a lot of it right now."

The support is vital, as the firefighters need to be regularly fed as they travel to and from the fire line.

"It's just absolutely heartwarming," said Kowalchuk. "There's just huge huge amounts of stuff coming in. We just can't thank people enough."

The area's reeve is flabbergasted at the work being done by everyone from RCMP officers to health workers to community volunteers.

"We've never had a catastrophe like this before," said de Moissac. "They just helped us just get everything into place."

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