The Government of Saskatchewan is hiring more firefighting crews and updating and purchasing equipment in order to improve fire safety and emergency management in the province.

The plan also includes investing in longer-term protection measures for northern people and  clarifying roles and responsibilities for evacuation and large-scale emergencies.

“I am pleased we are able to implement a number of measures to help prepare for the upcoming wildfire season and beyond,” Environment Minister Herb Cox said.

The improvements are the result of a review process into the response of last summer’s wildfires in northern Saskatchewan.

“We are grateful for the feedback shared by residents, business owners and community leaders, who were affected by the wildfires,” Government Relations Minister Jim Reiter said.  “The Government of Saskatchewan will continue to work with communities to improve on preparedness and operations planning that will help us in case of future emergencies.”

The review took six months to complete, and included feedback received from meetings held in nine northern communities with elected leaders and community officials, written submissions from business and industry affected by the fires, and from online submissions by more than 600 residents.

The improved wildfire response and emergency management also includes:

  • eliminating the 20 kilometre zone as a strategy to prioritize wildfires around communities.  Wildfires threatening human life, communities and infrastructure continue to be the top priority, with every fire assessed to determine the most appropriate response, based on the level of threat;
  • hiring an additional eight seasonal firefighting crews in northern communities;
  • engaging with provincial partners and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to review evacuation processes and clarify evacuation roles and responsibilities between the province and local authorities;
  • improving training capacity;
  • purchasing new equipment;
  • upgrading weather stations;
  • enhancing analysis and communications systems; and
  • clarifying policies and roles for large-scale emergency situations.

The Government of Saskatchewan will also bring one CV580 air tanker and one birddog aircraft into service sooner than normal, given that much of northern Saskatchewan has experienced warmer temperatures and below-normal snowfall this winter. It will also recall wildfire crews two weeks earlier than usual to ensure full preparedness for the 2016 season.

The Ministry of Environment, working with local communities and the federal government, has also undertaken fuel mitigation measures in 15 locations to thin and remove vegetation to reduce wildfire hazards.

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