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Grass fires a growing issue for EFRS

While the residents of Estevan and area have enjoyed the incredible weather this spring has brought, the same cannot necessarily be said for the city's firefighters.
A grass fire that spread along the valley edge behind Woodend Place and Cundall Drive last Wednesday afternoon kept Estevan Fire Rescue Services personnel busy.

While the residents of Estevan and area have enjoyed the incredible weather this spring has brought, the same cannot necessarily be said for the city's firefighters.

The members of the Estevan Fire Rescue Service have been kept on their toes dealing with a number of grass fires, the majority of them outside of the city.

In an interview with The Mercury last Wednesday, Chief Ron Tocker said his department was coming off a weekend where they answered a number of calls in the RM. Tocker, who noted their first grass fire calls came as early as January, said the problem has been residents of the RM conducting controlled burns that get out of control.

"They think they've got it under control, but they get way too big and they don't have it under control," said Tocker. "One guy with a shovel, he can't control a large grass fire and it just gets away on him and then bang, it costs him $1,200 an hour for us to come out there."

Tocker said the key to ensuring a fire does not get out of control is picking the right day. If there is anything more than a mild wind or a wind that is blowing in the direction of a neighbour's home, people should wait for another day. There should also be a fireguard in place which can be something as simple as scratching up the ground around the fire so the blaze does not have an opportunity to spread.

"More than one guy is usually helpful," Tocker added. "If he is by himself, he better have a very small area that he is trying to control. They also need to stay on scene. People, with cellphones now, they will dial 911 as soon as they see smoke. We have a system in place that the city police already know there is a controlled burn there, but it gets confusing for the city police to always have to check if that is a controlled burn and checking these land locations."

Tocker said anyone conducting a controlled burn should always contact Estevan police first and provide their exact location and a cellphone number.

"All this information helps us not charge them $1,200 an hour. If we respond to the RM it is $1,200 and the RM will invoice the land owner."

Although fires within city limits have not been a major problem, the fire department was called to a blaze in the Pleasantdale Valley just hours after the interview with Tocker. He noted residents are allowed to have firepits in their yards but cautioned against getting carried away with massive bonfires and the like.

He cited a recent case when a homeowner near the Spectra Credit Union had a massive blaze in their yard and smoke from that fire was blown into the intake of the bank's air system. A man using Spectra's ATM smelled smoke and alerted the fire department.

"Our biggest problem with firepits right now is large fires that create a lot of smoke and with things like that, it's just a chain reaction."

In the case of an out of control fire, the department or police will arrive on scene and ask the homeowner to comply with regulations. If they don't, a truck will arrive on scene and a $1,200 bill will follow shortly afterwards.

"Most people are very diligent. They keep them under control and are supposed to have a gravelled area around them. But what happens with the sparks, they can fly to your neighbour's garage and if he's got cedar shingles boom."