Day 6

Facing the Change: Why Prince Albert's wildfire threat is on par with Fort McMurray

In part three of Day 6's special series on climate change, we look at how wildfires are putting the residents of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan at risk as climate change creates warmer and drier conditions across the Canadian prairies.
Provincial government water bombers back up firefighters who battled a fire north of Prince Albert in August 2016. (Photo by Spencer Sterritt)

As climate change creates arid and warmer conditions across the Canadian prairies, wildfires are putting residents of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan at risk.

The city is being featured in "Facing the Change," a special Day 6 series about the impact climate change is having right now in urban centres and towns across the country.

No single wildfire can be directly attributed to climate change. But across the prairies, temperatures are heating up. With rising temperatures, wildlife experts predict potentially longer droughts and more intense weather events. Drier conditions coupled with lightning—the leading cause of fires in Canada—could result in more wildfires.

The forests outside Montreal Lake are still recovering from the forest fires that ravaged Northern Saskatchewan in July 2015. (Eric Anderson / CBC)

Experts at the Prairie Climate Centre at the University of Winnipeg estimate that by 2080, Prince Albert's average annual temperature could increase by four degrees Celsius.

In 2015, wildfires overtook Northern Saskatchewan. Large stretches of land were ravaged—about 10 times the amount of land lost in a typical wildfire season. Over 13,000 people had to flee their homes. According to the Red Cross, it was the largest evacuation in the province's history. Some evacuees have only recently been able to return home.

Prince Albert was unscathed by these fires, but that may not be the case next time around.

Situated in the middle of the boreal forest, Prince Albert is an urban area with 40,000 people. Its many residents and businesses are surrounded by potential wildfire fuel.

A fire truck sits outside the Prince Albert Fire Department. (Prince Albert Fire Department/Facebook)

As that forest fuel gets drier and the weather gets hotter, the risk of a major fire poses a serious and growing threat to the community — leaving it vulnerable to the same level of wildfire devastation that overtook Fort McMurray earlier this year. 

We speak to Jason Everitt, the fire chief for the city of Prince Albert and the director of the city's crisis management operations, about the increased risk of wildfires and what that could mean for the community.

We also hear from Cliff Buettner, the Forestry Director with the Prince Albert Grand Council; Toddi Steelman, a wildfire expert at the University of Saskatchewan; Larry Fremont of the Provincial Wildfire Centre; and Frank Roberts, one of 13,000 people who had to evacuate their homes during the 2015 wildfire season.