A fire that consumed about 4,000 acres of pasture and prairie land last Wednesday was probably one of the biggest and most difficult emergencies southeast Saskatchewan has seen in recent years.
The call for service came in at about 3 p.m. The Portal International Fire Department was the first one on the scene, with the Oxbow/Enniskillen Fire Department joining for mutual aid in a matter of a few minutes. The two departments took over the dual incident command role, co-ordinating what turned out to be a battle that took 11 fire entities and seven hours to win.
The fire started south of Frobisher. Highway 9 South, approximately six kilometres north of the Canada-U.S. border was closed and the public was asked to avoid the area as dozens of firefighters along with local farmers, water haulers, RM representatives and others were trying to tame the raging elements.
"Off the start, it was pretty chaotic. It was challenging, just trying to figure out where we could even get to it. And also trying to co-ordinate that many people was difficult. The wind was definitely not in our favour and causing a lot of grief for everybody involved," said Oxbow/Enniskillen Fire Chief Doug Pierce.
"All in all it was definitely a very tough fire to fight. The terrain definitely played a big role, with hills and rocks and not being able to get to where we wanted to."
At some point, the fire was also getting close to a few buildings.
"We had a couple of homes that we were concerned about, but we were able to get it under control before it got too close to the houses," said Pierce.
There were 17 members of the Oxbow/Enniskillen Fire Department working on scene alongside dozens of other Canadian and American firefighters that day.
"It was a staggering number (of firefighters), that's for sure," said Pierce. "And there is always a potential for firefighters to be in danger. It was so smoky, there were times when you couldn't see where you were going or where you needed to get to. So there is always the potential of that danger.
"But we had really good communication amongst all fire departments and everybody put in a great effort to be where they needed to be at any given time and I think we handled the danger part of it quite well."
Pierce added that while he and the Portal fire chief were the ones co-ordinating the operation over the radio, other fire departments were great to work with, every department played a big role and they all worked as a team.
That was the biggest operation that the Oxbow/Enniskillen Fire Department had to deal with. They've had some big fires that they've fought before, but it never involved so many people.
Pierce said it was about 4 p.m. when firefighters finally were able to get the flames under control and proceed with full extinguishment.
A flare stack started the fire.
When the operation was finally accomplished, local social media got flooded with gratitude to all people involved.
"Thanks to all fire departments that responded to fight the wild grass fire. Thank you to the RM of Coalfields and RM of Enniskillen for the graders and water truck. Shaw Earth Moving and Iron Side contractors that brought dozers. To all the companies that supplied water trucks, the farmers and landowners that hauled water, brought discs and tractors. Brett for supplying air support. This really was a great effort by everyone involved. To everyone who brought water, pizzas, sandwiches it was greatly appreciated and kept all firefighters fed and watered. It doesn't go unnoticed and was greatly appreciated. To the Carnduff RCMP and Carlyle RCMP for taking control and closing the highway so we could focus on our job. And to anyone that we missed," said Oxbow/Enniskillen Fire Department on their Facebook page.
Pierce also pointed out that the spray plane made a huge difference in the operation.
"Hats off to all agencies involved today from both sides of the international boundary," said Carlyle Fire Department.
"The Portal International Fire Department would like to say thank you and job well done to the following fire departments who responded (on Wednesday): Lignite FD, Columbus FD, Bowbells FD, Kenmare FD, Bienfait FD, Oxbow FD, Estevan FD, Alameda FD, Frobisher FD, Carlyle FD. Thank you to the RM of Coalfields and RM of Eniskillen for the motor graders, the oil companies and contractors that brought dozers and water tankers, the farmers and landowners that hauled water, brought discs and tractors. The guys in the planes dropping water. This really was a great effort by everyone involved. To everyone who brought water, pizzas, sandwiches it was greatly appreciated. We are grateful that no occupied structures were lost and everyone made it home safe," said Portal International Fire Department in their Facebook post.
Dozens of comments and posts by fire departments, RMs, businesses and individuals echoed the ones above, thanking everyone involved for conducting a successful operation and putting their own lives at risk protecting the safety of everyone in the area.