The reeve for the rural municipality (RM) of Biggar is frustrated that the community was denied funding through Saskatchewan’s provincial disaster assistance program (PDAP) after a wildfire scorched much of the area last month.
The program is meant to help cover non-insurable damage from natural disasters, including flooding and tornadoes. PDAP doesn’t cover damage caused by wildfires.
“What’s the point of disaster relief if you’re not going to relieve anyone’s disaster? It doesn’t make any sense to me,” RM of Biggar Reeve Jeanne-Marie de Moissac said.
“It’s ridiculous. I just think it needs to be changed.”
The total price tag of the 84 square-kilometre blaze is hard to calculate, but de Moissac said the town and RM are facing costs of roughly $300,000.
Of particular concern is a $75,000 bill for a water bomber, which she said local officials thought would be paid for by the province.
“It’s a lot of money to be sprung on an RM and a town in the middle of an emergency,” de Moissac said.
Roughly three-quarters of the scorched area was pasture land, meaning producers have resorted to buying feed or renting other land.
Fencing spanning 120 kilometres also needs to be replaced at an expected cost of $375,000, according to the reeve.
“It’s so frustrating because the relief isn’t there and we need it. I mean, this is as much a state of emergency as the fire as far as I’m concerned,” de Moissac said.
According to a statement from Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Government Relations, little to no PDAP payments have gone to assist with wildfire recovery in the last 10 years.
“The program does not provide assistance for the fighting of forest, prairie, grass or wildfires, except where they pose a threat to built-up areas and there is an imminent threat to life and property,” the statement reads.
“Insurance against fire is widely and readily available.”
The province’s Emergency Planning Act requires municipalities to establish operational funding for emergency response services like fighting fires, the statement said.
Provincial officials will continue to work with the RM of Biggar to address its concerns, according to the ministry.
The Biggar & District Credit Union is accepting donations to help people affected. The Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association also has started a fund to support ranchers.
As of Friday afternoon, Saskatchewan has seen 61 wildfires in 2019, which is 46 fires fewer than the five-year average.