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The GNWT commissioned a report in 2012 that gave a dozen recommendations for how the City of Yellowknife can help property owners lessen their vulnerability to wildfires approaching the city. Mayor Mark Heyck said he had not seen the report until a few weeks ago. - NNSL file photo

Forest fire safety report not acted on
Mayor admits he hadn't seen 2012 GNWT-commissioned report until earlier this summer

by John McFadden
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 4, 2014

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE
The mayor of Yellowknife has admitted officials have not acted upon recommendations made in a 2012 report commissioned by the Government of the Northwest Territories dealing with "fire smarting" the city in the event of an approaching forest fire, but he says the city has made efforts to keep residents safe.

In fact, Mayor Mark Heyck said he hadn't even seen a copy of the Community Wildfire Protection Plan until a few weeks ago.

"We work with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) on these fire prevention issues on a regular basis," said Heyck.

"The city has a homeowner's manual that deals with how to minimize the wildfire risk to property."

The manual is available on the city's website.

He added that Fire Chief Darcy Hernblad was given a copy of the report when it first came out in March of 2012.

He said GNWT officials made a presentation to city administrators when the plan was released.

It's not entirely clear why a copy of it was never drawn to Heyck's attention.

Details of the report

The report examines Yellowknife exclusively and contains a dozen recommendations for how the city can help property owners lessen their vulnerability to wildfires.

Those recommendations include removing brush around homes and businesses, making sure zoning bylaws take wildfire safety into account, as well as ongoing wildfire risk assessment and enhanced public education and awareness about wildfire safety.

Dennis Marchiori, Yellowknife's public safety director, said he thinks residents shouldn't read too much into the fact that the report's recommendations haven't been acted upon.

"The city has clearly expressed its interest in making properties less prone to fire," said Marchiori.

"We've done things like thinning brush from trails and whenever possible, we let property owners know that it's in their best interest to make sure that fire fuels, like dead trees and brush, are cleared from the immediate area of their structures.

"We had a lot going in back in 2012 when this report came out. We were dealing with a new water treatment facility and upgrades to Northland Trailer Park, just to name a couple of issues that at the time were of a higher priority."

Both he and the mayor agreed the report has merit, but when it was released, it came with no extra GNWT funding to the city in order to implement any of the recommendations.

The report is currently available on nwtfire.com.

Representatives from ENR were unable to provide comment by press time.

Get carried away

Meanwhile Robert Hawkins, MLA for Yellowknife Centre, said the GNWT can, on occasion, get carried away with consultant reports such as the wildfire plan.

"I really don't even remember seeing this report," said Hawkins.

"It's difficult for me to find online, so I imagine the public has a hard time accessing it as well."

Hawkins said he thinks GNWT bureaucrats become obsessed with reports such as the wildfire plan because if government policies and procedures don't go according to plan, it can then point to the consultant and lay the blame there.

"We are sometimes in the business of buying reports and that's not necessarily the best way for the territorial government to operate," he said.

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