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Fire protection for city a work in progress
Last year 'a good learning experience for all agencies and orders of government' says Heyck

Elaine Anselmi
Northern News Services
Friday, May 8, 2015

Following one of the worst fire seasons in the territory's history, with predictions suggesting another could be afoot, the city is taking measures but full fire protection could be far off, says the mayor.

"It's a long-term project. It's not something that can be done in two or three years in a community our size," said Mayor Mark Heyck.

"We'll get a better sense this summer how much could be accomplished with the funding available."

Forest management and mobile sprinkler kits are among the ways $100,000 of the city's 2015 budget will be used toward wildfire preparation.

"There have been several moves to address some of the issues around preparing for wildfire season," said Heyck.

"We're working closely with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to identify some of the first steps in fire smarting within our community."

The $100,000 contribution is designated as an ongoing capital project in the budget, and will also be set aside in 2016, 2017 and possibly beyond.

Last December, when the capital project was proposed for the budget, Dennis Marchiori, director of public safety, said the $300,000 over three years may not be enough to adequately protect the city from wildfires.

Heyck agreed that fully fire smarting - various methods that minimize the impact of fire on an area - is an ongoing project, probably requiring a decade

or more of work.

Looking toward the upcoming fire season, he said some resources would be put into kits that include hoses and sprinklers that can be used in areas where a fire is approaching - Heyck has been in talks with representatives from Timmins, Ont. where this sort of system was used to protect the city from a forest fire a few years ago.

As well, he said forest management would be a significant part of the city's efforts to curb the potential threat of a wildfire. This would include the removal of dead-fall from the forest floor, lower levels of branches from trees and dead-standing trees that fuel fires and encourage spread. The specific area and a timeline for starting this work has not yet been decided, Heyck said.

The city, he pointed out, is well-situated to minimize the threat of a wildfire, being largely closed in by the lake and large swathes of cleared land due to Giant and Con Mine, offering limited fuel for a fire. Therefore, he said fire protection would largely be focused on the western and northwestern areas of the city.

"Last summer was a good learning experience for all agencies and orders of government that were involved in forest fire season. On the public engagement and communications aspect of last summer we learned a lot," said Heyck.

The department of environment has been monitoring conditions that lead to wildfires and so far, all signs are pointing to another challenging season, Kris Johnson, manager of fire science with Environment and Natural Resources, previously told Yellowknifer.

Johnson pointed to maps provided by The Canadian Wildland Fire Information System that provide monthly predictions of fire-risk across the country, illustrating a dramatic increase in threat from May to June.

"There is no perfect crystal ball for looking forward into identifying what the coming fire season will look like," Johnson said.

"We use difference sources, but we haven't seen a single indicator that says conditions are going to diminish compared to last year," he told Yellowknifer previously.

After last season, which saw 385 fires rip though 3.4 million hectares of forest at a cost of more than $56 million, the department of environment put forward a list of areas to improve upon when it comes to forest fire preparedness and response.

"While we responded effectively to the challenges of a difficult fire season with no serious injuries or fatalities to firefighters, residents or visitors, we recognize the need to constantly improve our operations to meet our mandate of protection of human life, property, natural and cultural resources from wildfire," said Environment Minister Michael Miltenberger in a news release.

Several areas are identified as priorities in the report, including public engagement; increasing and streamlining communication to the public, media and any parties involved are recognized as key to wildfire response efforts.

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