After a way below average start to the season, the number of wildfires in Saskatchewan has risen to be on par with past years.
To date, the provincial wildfire centre has recorded 389 wildfires. The five-year average is 449. In terms of hectares, 231,763 have been affected so far this year. The five-year average is approximately 688,000 hectares.
“We’re below average for the hectares burnt, and we’re slightly down for the number of fires,” provincial wildfire centre Scott Wasylenchuk said.
Last year, a total of 256 wildfires were recorded up until this date, which is below average. As of June 5 of this year, 132 were recorded — 35 fewer than last year.
At one point in mid-July, the number had risen to 210 wildfires, 29 fewer than the year before.
“Last year was one of the slowest fire seasons we’ve had on record,” Wasylenchuk said. “We’re actually handling a normal fire season this year.
“We started out slow in the spring. We had a busy June and July — that’s when we had a fairly active fire season,” Wasylenchuk said.
Wasylenchuk said an airflow that had brought in smoke from northern Alberta has tapered off. He said the season begins to die down at this time of year. As of Monday, there had been 33 total burning wildfires across the province — mostly in the La Ronge area.
“Typically, it begins to die down at this time of year,” he said. “With shorter days and temperatures tending to be a little cooler at night — you don’t get those hot nights — and your humidity and things are up. Plus, you get dew in the morning.”
Wildfires are typically caused by lightning strikes and human action, according to Wasylenchuk.
“Typically, about fifty to 60 per cent (of our total number of fires) are lightning caused,” Wasylenchuk said. “And then anywhere from 45 to 50 per cent in a year are typically human caused.”
According to Wasylenchuk, a contingent of about 211 type one firefighters is run, and the number dispatched for each individual fire varies. There were no fires burning in the Prince Albert area as of Monday, with 76 having been declared out.
“We’re looking at heating up for a couple of days, with cold fronts coming in at the end of the week. So, it’s very cyclical — this time of year with fires. You’ll get a couple of nice days and then some cooler temperatures will move in for a few days,” Wasylenchuk said. “You don’t get those long patterns of 35 C above for two weeks.”
Wasylenchuk said it isn’t uncommon to provide assistance in other parts of North America. The amount of exports is dependent on the resources available.
“We’ve had aircraft, water bombers, water skimmers and land-based air tankers in Quebec,” he said.
“We were down in Colorado back in June. We’ve been in Montana for a big part of the summer. We still have a group of air tankers down in Montana. We sent firefighters to Ontario in July. We have 21 personnel right now in Idaho, and we had firefighters that returned this morning from B.C.”
The provincial wildfire centre will be holding a press conference on Wednesday to outline the highlights of this year’s wildfire season.
Steve Roberts, executive director of Saskatchewan’s wildfire management branch and Environment Minister Ken Cheveldayoff will be among those in attendance.