The House

'Unprecedented' wildfires raging in Saskatchewan

As more than 110 fires rage in Saskatchewan, causing over 13,000 people to leave their homes, Premier Brad Wall joins us to discuss the latest fire fighting efforts.
Saskatchewan forest fire. (Corey Hardcastle/Government of Saskatchewan)

Wild fires are raging across Western Canada, and in Saskatchewan, over 13,000 people have been forced out of their homes and into emergency shelters.

Premier Brad Wall is blunt when it comes to his government's priorities — namely, ensuring people's safety first before turning to the rising costs of the fire fighting efforts, which have already exceeded the 2015-2016 wild fire budget of $56 million.

"While we're frankly not worried about counting the pennies right now, it's true that this will obviously have unintended, unplanned consequences in regards to the budget," he told The House.

"In terms of the economy, absolutely this is a disruption. But we're going to worry about putting out the fire and taking care of folks."

Wall toured some of the hardest hit areas of his province earlier this week, calling the impact of the fires "huge" and "unprecedented" in Saskatchewan's history.

"Some [people] have been outside their homes since the end of June, if you can imagine," he tells host Chris Hall. "Out of your home in an evac centre on a cot for weeks. We're very hopeful that the tide will turn soon."

But with scientists warning that climate change could lead to more forest fires in coming years, that might be wishful thinking on Wall's part. 

The Saskatchewan premier doesn't agree. 

"We just haven't seen that," he said. "The reality is we've seen very mild forest fire activity in the last number of years."

Indeed, the focus over the last few years has been on severe flooding in the province. Whether it's floods or fires, though, Wall said the province is prepared to deal with natural disasters. 

"I think what governments need to do is budget for a reasonable amount, knowing that if there's going to be an historic event...the provincial government and the feds are going to respond. That's the way it's always been with disaster events."

"Should [budgets] be increasing because of various activities, whether it's flood or fire? Sure," he added. "We've changed the disaster assistance program — we've completely overhauled it and improved it in our province in that acknowledgement that these events are happening."

Wall said Saskatchewanians — and Canadians — can expect to see budget measures from governments "down the road to adjust to that reality."

In the meantime, the premier is thankful for the support his province is receiving from across the country, including from the Canadian military

"The response from the Red Cross and emergency social services and other agencies has been outstanding," he said. 

"We'll also acknowledge and thank the federal government for the Canadian Forces who are here on the ground now, helping to fight the fires."