Fire held in check
Weather, forestry keep flames from Tsiigehtchic

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services

TSIIGEHTCHIC (Aug 20/99) - The community of Tsiigehtchic and the territorial government are breathing a sigh of relief this week.

They're also breathing fresher air as the forest fire that had been smoking heavily across the Mackenzie River to Tsiigehtchic has retreated with the recent cold, wet weather.

"The weather has really co-operated," said Mike Gravel, manager of forests with Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development (RWED), on Tuesday. "And now it's the end of August and we're making a lot of recovery at nighttime and just hope the weather keeps cool."

When the fire came within eight kilometres of the Mackenzie River's bank two weekends ago and thick black clouds of smoke rolled across the river, there was talk of evacuating Tsiigehtchic. But Gravel said there was little likelihood of the fire jumping the Mackenzie.

"You would need exactly ideal conditions for that to happen and I don't think they existed," he said. "But we still had to take precautions."

Gravel said a forest management team got busy putting in control lines to clear brush and contain the fire.

"We were successful in preventing the fire spreading past Cardinal Lakes," he said, "and put control lines in south of those lakes to ensure the fire wouldn't spread westward toward the highway and Tsiigehtchic."

The close call was nevertheless a wake-up call for Tsiigehtchic. Gravel said approximately 25 per cent of the 170,000-hectare fire is on Gwich'in private land and many residents, including Chief Grace Blake, have been critical of the government's strategy regarding the fire.

"I'm tired," Blake conceded last Saturday and slumped down in a chair in her office, which overlooked a still smoky, hazy Tsiigehtchic.

Blake said the previous week's events had placed a great strain on the community's approximately 160 inhabitants. While she gave credit to the late efforts to keep the fire away from Tsiigehtchic, she criticized what she felt was a lack of communication among the government departments and Yellowknife and a failure to consult with the community council.

"Because there's no RWED forestry officer here year-round, we at least need someone here in the spring before the season starts to see what needs to be done," she said. "They've got to work with the community and the people."

Blake said Tsiigehtchic was reviewing its emergency measures plan. She said that once it was updated, a dry run would prove useful so that everyone would know exactly what to do in the event of another crisis.

On hand to help out was Kathryn Youngblut, an Emergency Services duty officer from Yellowknife.

"We're going over the 1993 plan with the community," she said, "but really there's nothing major to be changed -- more like updated with new contact names and departments."

Meanwhile, Mike Gravel said forestry management is also keeping its eye on a bigger, 200,000-hectare fire that recently crossed into the region from the Sahtu.

"We've been mapping it and it hasn't moved much," he said. "It's gone along the river and there are no cabins or values there -- so hopefully with this weather, that'll be it for this fire."