Pre-planning key to combat farm emergencies

Don Connick has seen wildfires before, but the ones last October in the Tompkins, Burstall and Leader areas in southwest Saskatchewan were a different beast.

"It was a monster," recalls the Gull Lake farmer and a director with the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan. "The visibility was very, very low and the sand was blowing in your eyes. It was really a chaotic situation."

Community effort

Connick says volunteer fire departments, farmers, ranchers and Hutterite colonies battled to keep the fires from racing through extremely dry fields and pastures. Wind gusts, which at times peaked above 100 kilometres an hour, allowed the fires to spread quickly. The flames were jumping 99-foot grid road allowances with ease. 

Connick credits farmers using tillage equipment for finally getting the situation under control. 

"They managed to get way ahead of the fire and disc some very wide fire guards along the road allowance that finally got the fire stopped," Connick says, adding injuries sustained by some area residents took months of recuperation and hospitalization.  

Extensive damage

The wildfires burned an estimated 85,000 acres of pasture and hayland, killed over 750 cattle and destroyed many miles of fence. 

"One family lost nearly 200 head of cattle in one group," Connick says. "Another man lost his whole herd of cattle, which was about 85 head. That's their paycheck and it's gone."

Lessons learned

Connick says a number of lessons were learned from the wildfires. He urges every rural municipality, town, village and individual farm to develop an emergency plan.  

"Try to equip them to be prepared for all sorts of emergencies. Have a feasible plan and make sure people are aware of that plan." 

Connick says at times, onlookers hindered the efforts of firefighters and first responders. 

"They drove in their vehicles, congested roads and generally got in the way. In one case, they came close to becoming very seriously injured." 

He adds all of the additional people using phones, texting and sending photos via social media created an electronic overload on the cell towers, which impacted the ability of emergency workers to use cell phones for emergency information. 

Bottom line

Take the time now to develop an emergency plan for your farm thinking about all possible sorts of emergencies, so it's ready, and close at hand to implement if ever needed.  

Article by: Neil Billinger