NNSL Photo/Graphic

Canadian North

Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page
Fire burns near Onion Lake
Human-caused fire a reminder for safe burning practices

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, June 21, 2012

The forest fire that can be seen burning from the community of Inuvik should serve as a reminder to everyone to use safe burning practices and make sure their campfires are fully extinguished before leaving them unattended, officials fighting the fire say.

NNSL photo/graphic

Paulou Ittungna, left, Kenneth Carmichael, Lance Gray, Annie Neglak and Margo Neglak observe the fire burning near Onion Lake from the Dempster Highway on Saturday. - Laura Busch/NNSL photo

"It was a campfire that was left unattended," said Martin Callaghan, manager of forestry in the Inuvik region. "It's really unfortunate that so much money has been spent to try to contain this fire that could have been easily prevented.

"Every year it seems we have to deal with this and it's very difficult for us to do so," he said. "It's endangering the lives of our fire crews all the time when they have to go on these needless fires."

The fire was first reported at Onion Lake at about 4 p.m. on Saturday. The five-person Inuvik fire response crew attended the fire immediately and fought it from the ground while a helicopter worked overhead, dumping buckets of water. Later that evening, the fire was classified as contained and a fire hose had successfully been installed around the blaze.

"Everybody acted very professionally," said Ernie Francis, forest officer with the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources Saturday.

However, strong winds Sunday allowed the fire to jump the line and it was again burning out of control, which it continued to do as of press time.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 340 hectares of forest had been affected, and the fire was being fought by six five-man fire crews, three helicopters, three water bombers, and a DC-4 filled with a load of fire retardant was scheduled to arrive in the area late Tuesday night. At its closest point, the fire is about 10 km from Inuvik and about five kilometres from the Inuvik airport. However, because the fire is burning south toward Campbell Lake, it is not expected to cause a threat to the community, said Callaghan.

No cabins or structures had been a lost to the flames, although about 50 people were evacuated from Airport Lake on Sunday and residents are strongly urged not to return to the Airport Lake area over the weekend, said Callaghan.

The DC-4 was scheduled to release its load between the fire and the cabins situated near Airport Lake to protect those structures, he said.

"It's up to us, as users of the land, to use fires with caution and ensure that campfires are put out," said Callaghan. "There's no shortage of water; we should always put lots and lots of water on it."

He said a fire should be doused to a point where the person is confident enough to stick their hand in it.

Since the fire was caused by human negligence, RCMP were notified of the situation Sunday, and an investigation has been opened into the incident.

"If anybody has information in relation to that incident, contact the RCMP," said Staff Sgt. Wayne Norris of the Inuvik RCMP. "Right now, the investigation is ongoing."

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.