SUMA delegates talk about fighting forest fires, hear about revenue-sharing

REGINA – Northern Saskatchewan communities that were affected by forest fires this past summer are still identifying ways to improve on their response and efforts to help mitigate damage.

Lessons learned from the incident were discussed Tuesday at the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association convention.

Delegates passed two resolutions concerning fire protection in the north.

One was regarding having fire guards to protect all northern communities.

The other resolution dealt with upgrading power poles to steel so that fires won’t burn them down and knock out power for critical fire fighting purposes.

One issue that came up at the convention is having better protocol surrounding evacuations.

“There’s too much legislation without a clear directive of what should be done,” said La Ronge Mayor Thomas Sierzycki. “When you’re in a situation like this, you need to act quickly and you need to know what authorities you have to actually move people from their home.”

There seemed to be an element of discord on what powers fire, police and other emergency responders had when it came to advising people it was time to leave according to Gordon Stomp, mayor of nearby Air Ronge.

The phrase “mandatory evacuation” also seemed to cause some confusion, he added.

“I really think that we have to identify a lot of essential people that can stay in the communities … and we ended up, actually, in our communities with needing some of the people that were evacuated.”

Stomp said nature is very unpredictable and said he isn’t sure you can ever be fully prepared to battle forest fires.

In another session at the convention, Government Relations Minister Jim Reiter said municipal revenue sharing was increased by at least $6 million this year.

Reiter assured delegates that even during this difficult economic time, rural municipalities are being taken care of.

He said they made sure revenue funding was increased despite the low price of oil.

“During a tough budget year, we were still able to provide a record $265 million in revenue sharing.”

Reiter said last summer’s wildfires and low commodities hurt the province, but Saskatchewan is coping because the economy is diversified.