Saskatchewan wildfire crews are battling the novel coronavirus and floods amid a quiet year for forest fires.
The province has experienced 96 wildfires in 2020 — a fraction of the five-year average of 357. Wet weather across northern Saskatchewan has meant no prolonged periods of dryness.
“We’ve only had seven new fires in the last week even though it’s been very hot,” said Steve Roberts, acting vice-president of operations for the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA).
The province’s wildfire operations transitioned over to the agency at the end of the 2019 fire season. It’s meant Saskatchewan’s 224 personnel capable of fighting fires are now part of an “all-hazard agency,” Roberts said.
With significantly fewer fires and more rain, crews have helped with flood mitigation and prevention. This year, crews have worked in areas like Île-à-la-Crosse, Cumberland House, Pelican Narrows and Sandy Bay.
Water levels in the west side of the province are dropping, but Roberts said areas in the eastern portions of the province could see higher levels for a significant amount of time.
To help out, personnel are trained in operating machinery, filling sandbags, building barriers and pumping water. Other work could include recovery efforts following a tornado or remote search missions.
“All of our wildfire crews, basically, have become all-hazard crews,” Roberts said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Saskatchewan, workers helped out at remote checkpoints. They also helped secure and deliver personal protective equipment to first responders.