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Question Period (20 November 2006)

Question Period

From Hansard - 20 November 2006

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Fire Protection for Stony Rapids

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, near the end of June the communities of Stony Rapids and Black Lake had to be evacuated under emergency situations due to a forest fire that nearly burned down the community of Stony Rapids and threatened the community of Black Lake, Mr. Speaker. This forest fire started at least two weeks prior to it jumping the Fond du Lac River and threatening the community of Stony Rapids, Mr. Speaker.

My question is to the Minister of Environment. Why didn’t that minister and his government protect the community of Stony Rapids?

Hon. Mr. Nilson: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I think the answer to that question is that the fire service did protect the community of Stony Rapids. There were no structures lost, there were no lives lost in that community.

There was a fire that started 32 kilometres northwest of the village of Stony Rapids on June 3, and it was 12 miles outside of the response zone so it was monitored. It was monitored daily by air, and the conditions fluctuated between June 3 and June 22. And what happened is that there was a big wind that came up and when it got just over 20 kilometres away, it moved very quickly towards the village. At that point the reports came in and the response was provided according to the program we have.

Mr. Hart: — Mr. Speaker, the minister said that the community was protected and there were no lives lost, and he’s right. But that had nothing to do with that minister and his government. It had everything to do with the heroic efforts that the residents of that community put forward in averting a near catastrophe, Mr. Speaker.

They were faced with a raging inferno that advanced rapidly towards their community — jumped a wide river, the Fond du Lac River — and it was only through the extraordinary events of those residents that we didn’t have a tragedy in that part of our province, Mr. Speaker. And all of this is because of that government’s let-it-burn policy.

When the fire had started, as the minister said, in the driest area of the province between two communities and it got out of control . . . It could have been controlled much earlier, Mr. Speaker, and I’ve asked that minister: why didn’t they control that fire earlier?

Hon. Mr. Nilson: — Mr. Speaker, the province has a wildfire strategy which has been developed in line with the Canadian wildfire strategy which all provinces and territories are part of. And, Mr. Speaker, the policy that we have in this government is to protect people, to protect businesses and structures. And we have a very clear way of doing that.

At this time in June, as the member knows, there were a number of fires right across the North and the protection was allocated to protect some communities where the fires were burning right within these communities. When this fire started moving very quickly towards Stony Rapids, full deployment was made and Sask Environment personnel and equipment were used to help the local community keep the fire out of that town.

Mr. Hart: — Mr. Speaker, the minister said that when the fire was threatening the community a full deployment of resources was made. In fact, Mr. Speaker, the helicopter that was there left the community and left that community unprotected, Mr. Speaker. The only people there were the residents and a small fire suppression crew, Mr. Speaker.

But during the height of the forest fires, Mr. Speaker, both the member from Athabasca — who coincidentally when he was minister of the Environment approved the new policy — and the Premier both said that this policy must be reviewed. It must be reviewed to make it more effective and to prevent future catastrophes, Mr. Speaker. My question to the minister is: has this firefighting policy been reviewed and, if so, what are the results of that review?

Hon. Mr. Nilson: — Mr. Speaker, I invite that member to read the policy. In the policy it has an annual review where you review every fire that happens during that year and then update your policy. So, Mr. Speaker, this particular fire and all of the fires this summer are being reviewed as we speak, and it will be part of our plan as we look forward to next year.

Mr. Speaker, we have to make sure that we use our resources to protect our people, protect our communities, and protect the commercial structures. We have in our province a map of every structure in the North with a digital photograph. People know where these places are, and they make their plans to protect the fires based on that information, supplemented with satellite information which is recorded every 6 hours on a 24-hour basis.

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