A Saskatchewan union says large areas of northern Saskatchewan are currently without wildfire detection services, putting families and communities at risk.

SGEU president Bob Bymoen says fire towers are being dismantled as government moves to an automated video surveillance system, but video cameras have not yet been installed to replace human observers:

“So we met with the minister here in July and we thought they had put a stop to the dismantling of towers until they had better backup systems in place. But out in the field people are telling us that the towers are coming down — and we’ve confirmed a number of towers have come down already — and we don’t believe that there’s any backup plan in place right now.”

Bymoen also maintains there are no helicopters or aircraft engaged in fire detection south of La Ronge.

But Saskatchewan Environment director of wildfire management Steve Roberts says they have full coverage:

“Wherever we’re doing work on towers and converting them from manned towers to automated towers, the local fire centre is aware of that and are augmenting the detection system to ensure we have detection coverage as required by the weather conditions.”

Roberts says it’s also worth noting that only 20% of wildfires are detected by fire towers, with the majority being detected by the public or commercial aircraft. He also says a lightning detection system continues to be utilized, covers the entire province and guides their detection efforts.

He adds 11 of the province’s 43 fire towers are currently out of commission — but the rest are still staffed with human observers.