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    House burns as Dettah firefighters fish

    Katie May
    Northern News Services
    Published Wednesday, August 6, 2008

    SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - An early morning house fire in Dettah burned itself out while volunteer firefighters were out fishing for the long weekend.

    On Sunday at 2:58 a.m., Yellowknife's fire department and RCMP responded to a fire at residence 429 in Dettah. When crews arrived 25 minutes later, the fire was already extinguished and the two occupants and their pets had escaped safely.

    Once on scene, firefighters discovered smoke and an estimated $15,000 in damages to the house plus $10,000 worth of damage to the house's contents.

    The fire is considered suspicious, said Gerda Groothuizen, deputy fire chief of life safety and prevention. The RCMP and the NWT fire marshal's office are currently investigating.

    Groothuizen said firefighters tried to contact Dettah's fire department before Yellowknife's 12-member crew, fire engine, ambulance and tanker truck arrived in the community but they couldn't reach anyone there. The Dettah department's phone number was out of service.

    "Right now they don't have the personnel to run it," she said.

    Yellowknives Dene First Nation Dettah Chief Edward Sangris said the three or four volunteer firefighters had gone fishing in the East Arm of Great Slave Lake for the long weekend.

    "This is the first time we've ran into this problem," Sangris said, adding to his knowledge there haven't been any fires in Dettah since around the 1970s. "We're going to look at it again through band council."

    In fact, a fire burned down the house of former Dettah fire chief Peter Stiopu in 2005, causing $500,000 in damage.

    Sangris said a few years ago the band asked the GNWT Department of Municipal and Community Affairs to provide funding for a full-time firefighter to work in the community's fully-equipped fire hall but didn't receive any funding.

    "They gave us everything (in the fire hall)," Sangris said. "But they didn't give us any money to run it."

    The agenda for Tuesday's band council meeting was already finalized but Sangris said he planned to raise the issue some time in the future.

    Band council CEO John Carter said he started trying to get a fire crew together only four months ago with an annual budget of $9,000. The public works department has been advertising volunteer firefighter jobs on flyers distributed around the community of 300 and offering training sessions through the NWT fire marshal's office.

    Current volunteer Dettah fire chief William Sangris could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

    It's difficult to find new volunteers in such a small community, Carter said, particularly when some of the current volunteers work in mines and are unavailable for weeks at a time.

    "There's a huge difference between a place with 300 people versus a place with 20,000," Carter said. "It's just trying to get people ... If you can't get them to buy in, you can't get them to buy in."

    As for the few volunteers Dettah does have, Carter said they still have to complete their training.

    "They're not qualified yet," he said. "Until such time as they can complete their fire protection courses, they're not a trained crew."