Fire-prevention program wraps up, leaves questions

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo Areas in Old Town have been "firesmarted" this spring to help ensure that homes near forested areas are not susceptible to potential wildfires in the community.

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo
Areas in Old Town have been “firesmarted” this spring to help ensure that homes near forested areas are not susceptible to potential wildfires in the community.

While the work to thin the undergrowth in some forested areas of Old Town is all done for the season, concerns about consultation may not be.

“I wish the town would have advised of their plans before they began the work. I know Old Town residents would have appreciated the notice,” Beatrice Lepine told The Hub. “We were all in the dark, but the mayor has said he will ensure they touch base with Old Town residents before the next work is begun.”

Firesmart is a program run by the municipality with funds from the territorial government. In it, crews go into forested areas and clear them of undergrowth in the hopes of preventing possible forest fires from spreading close to inhabited areas. Mayor Andrew Cassidy said that although it would have been better if administration had notified residents of Old Town beforehand, the funding they received only allowed for a small window to get the work done.

“It was last minute, year-end money from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR),” he said.

“We didn’t want to turn down the money.”

The town has a community wildfire protection plan – a joint report created by the fire chief and ENR in 2011. Cassidy explained that several areas were surveyed and deemed to present more of a risk in terms of fires spreading from inhabited to forested areas and vice-versa, with the space along the Mackenzie Highway in Old Town being just one of them.

“Some were higher priorities and in late winter we got some additional money from ENR to do the work,” he said. “It helps mitigate potential wildfires going through the community.”

Apart from consultation, there were some concerns from residents over the habitat for nesting birds being destroyed, as well as the use of machinery to thin the brush. Cassidy said the work has been completed for the season and – if there’s money – will continue in the fall, thereby not presenting a threat to nesting birds that typically settle down here in the spring.

“We weren’t able to communicate (the plan) as we would have liked to,” he said. “But we did see an opportunity to make our community safer and we jumped on it.”
As for further wildfire-prevention work to be completed, Cassidy said residents can visit the town’s website for information about projects that have yet to be completed.

-Sarah Ladik