SASKATOON – The Canadian Red Cross in Saskatchewan is gearing up for what could be a busy forest fire season. Currently, emergency preparedness operations are underway throughout the province.
The agency recently recruited several new volunteers and is still looking for more.
Parts of Saskatchewan under extreme fire risk
Saskatchewan readies for early wildfire season after historic blazes last year
Traffic on Sask. Highway 16 resumes after grass fire crossed lanes
“We always hope it’s the one job in the world you always hope you don’t get the call (for) because we really don’t want anyone to have a disaster. But we do need to be prepared,” said Sandra MacArthur, a long time volunteer with the Red Cross who took part in last year’s mass evacuation.
“We hope nothing happens, as always, but we are here to do what we have to do if the need arises.”
Currently, the Red Cross has around 300 volunteers ready to go. Last year, as numerous fires tore through northern Saskatchewan, the agency responded to the humanitarian crisis, providing food, shelter and services to more than 10,000 people who had to flee their homes.
Seven emergency shelters were set up across southern Saskatchewan and Alberta. More than 350 Red Cross personnel and 400 volunteers were involved in the response.
“The longer the evacuation goes on, the more stress there is on the volunteers and staff that we have, so that was a big challenge for us,” said Sue Laflamme, the agency’s emergency response team lead for Prince Albert and area.
READ MORE: Saskatchewan wildfire season gets underway with extra resources
Meanwhile, experts are sounding the alarm that large forest fires could become more common. Grass fires are already igniting outside Saskatoon, keeping firefighters on their toes.
According to officials at the Prince Albert Fire Centre, dry conditions are leading to a moderate to high risk level.
“They’re certainly already dealing with grassfires in southern Alberta and in the foothills of the Rockies, so we have to be vigilant here as well,” said University of Saskatchewan hydrology professor John Pomeroy.
“(Forest fires) are occurring almost every year in western Canada now, when they used to be much more rare occurrences.”