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Sask. farmers battle wildfire

Sask. farmers battle wildfire

Farmers in northeast Saskatchewan fought a wildfire that threatened homes, farmland and livestock

Staff Writer

A fire that started on May 8 in the Fort à la Corne Provincial Forest threatened Saskatchewan farms over the May long weekend. The English Creek fire is currently over 40,000 hectares in size and still listed as uncontained as of May 21.

On May 16, Dave Willness, who farms at Smeaton, Sask., could see smoke from the fire and watched it closely.

“On Saturday afternoon, we had winds from the south and we had all this smoke barreling over the farm,” said Willness, whose parents Rick and Doreen live in the area as well. “The smoke was coming over our farm, but I assumed it was way down in the Fort à la Corne because the Fort à la Corne is huge. So, we were keeping an eye on it.”

Dave and his family were seeding but decided to prepare some water trucks in case the fire came closer. After supper on Saturday, Rick told Dave to check on their neighbours to the south of their farm to ensure the fire hadn’t reached them.

“I went down there on my quad and the flames were literally barring down. They were coming across the field to the west of (our neighbours) that wasn't worked and they were coming down this big tree row too,” Dave told “I told (our neighbour) ‘I'm going to get my water tank.’ I stopped at the house and told the lady that lives there to get to our place.”

Dave and his neighbours worked to control the fire by using water trucks and disking farmland to remove any fuel for the fire. The community saved the houses and farmyards in immediate danger, but it was a long night working with the local volunteer fire crews.

“I got home at about six in the morning. I woke up at about seven and, at about eight o'clock, the calls for help started coming again and we were right back at it,” he said.

The Willness family has 200 head of cattle as well as farmland, but luckily, the livestock were not in danger from the fire. But a neighbour’s horses were.

“He delivered some horses to someone at Choiceland (Sask.). He brought a whole bunch of females and some of the young ones (to our place) and took some of them that were foaling to another guy,” said Dave.

A lot of farmers and community members in the area reached out to Dave to see if they could help, which he attributes to the farming culture in the area.

“Neighbours, fire departments and everyone are heroes when it comes to fighting things like this,” he said.

The fire reached some of the Willness family’s hayland, but they hope it will come back okay. Now that the fire is away from his farm, Dave is trying to seed again. It had already been a tough start to the spring.  

“We just barely got started and then we got shut down and we're already behind. Farming in the north, you have a very small window. If you don't get (the crop planted in time) in the spring, it's freezing in the fall or it's snowing on it,” said Dave.

Thankfully, the fire is not threatening farmers in the Smeaton area now. When the first fire headed their way on Saturday, however, they received no warning from the government, said Dave. He heard some people received a notification on Sunday through an app on their phone, but no one in the Willness family received any notification of the fire and the danger it posed.

“You can't rely on Facebook or an app on an iPhone to warn people. You have to knock on their doors,” he said. “We need better warnings and, in a situation like this, you can't rely on technology to get that across.”

Photo credit: Dave Willness

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