Saskatoon

Wildfire expert says situation can be dangerous even after rain

Mike Flannigan says people across Saskatchewan shouldn't get complacent about wildfires after this week's rain.

Professor says wildfires have doubled in size across Canada since 1970s, blames climate change

The Lumsden Fire Department said three homes were burned to the ground on Monday night due to a fire through the Kannata Valley. (Submitted by Charmaine Hazzard)

Mike Flannigan says people across Saskatchewan shouldn't get complacent about wildfires after this week's rain.

A professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta, Flannigan said the situation is still potentially dangerous.

"Some rain helps, yes. More rain helps a lot," he said. "But until things really green up, things dry out within hours, if not days."

As of Thursday, Saskatchewan had seen 107 wildfires this year, almost double the five-year average. So far, grass fires have burned up at least three homes and numerous vehicles.

Flannigan said between 2.5 to 3 million hectares of land is burned in Canada by wildfires every year, double the numbers seen in the 1970s. He said he and others believe climate change is to blame.

"The warmer it gets, the more fire we get," he said. "Longer fire seasons, because it's warmer; more lightning, because it's warmer. And the warmer it gets, the drier our fuels get."

He said a heavy snow pack is also no guarantee that grasslands will be safe from fire.

"Grass can dry out very quickly," he said. "So if it's warm and dry and windy like it's been in Saskatchewan, it can only take a few hours for that dry grass to burn again."

Flannigan said grass fires at this time of the year are almost always caused by human activity, as lightning is relatively rare in the early spring. That means people need to be extra careful.

"If you're burning, don't burn on a hot, dry, windy day," he said. "If there's a fire ban, observe the fire ban."

Anyone who starts a grass fire can be charged for firefighting services, which sometimes can amount to more than $10,000.

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