‘No threat to Hay River,’ says fire chief

The fireSmarting program carried out earlier this year in Old Town should help prevent fires from gaining ground so close to residential areas, according to the Hay River Fire Department. -- NNSL file photo

The fireSmarting program carried out earlier this year in Old Town should help prevent fires from gaining ground so close to residential areas, according to the Hay River Fire Department.
– NNSL file photo

With the territory experiencing the worst wildfire season in decades, some residents are growing concerned with the safety of the community as well as the plans to deal with the situation if the fires reach Hay River.

But director of protective services Ross Potter said unequivocally that there is no danger to Hay River at the present time.

“There is no threat to Hay River,” he told The Hub last week. “We have measures in place and we’re following all the right procedures to make sure everyone stays informed and safe.”

Along with posting regular updates from the GNWT to Facebook so residents can easily access up-to-date information, Potter has also activated the Emergency Measures Organization email chain normally used for keeping residents updated on water-levels during spring breakup. As of July 20, there were 60 fires burning in the South Slave, but most of them located closer to Kakisa. The community of about 50 people was evacuated to Hay River late last month, but was allowed to return home a week later once crews had ensured the safety of the village.

The Town of Hay River’s Emergency Plan, if activated, would bring together the heads of all emergency services in the community – such as the coast guard, RCMP and the fire department – who would gather to assess the situation and then decide how to proceed.

The logic is to not be mired in set-procedure and ensure the ability to act quickly in response to unique and unpredictable situations.

Fire risk mitigation
Beyond communications channels, there are a number of anti-wildfire measures present in town to help mitigate the risk of fires coming close to the community. Both the GNWT and the municipality have made an effort to clear the underbrush of some areas, such as across from the public beach in Old Town, in a process called FireSmarting. Also, a fire-break was cleared around the community after the fires in 1982. Although it is now overgrown, Potter said it would still serve its purpose.

While the hope is that it will not be needed, there are multiple levels of evacuation plans for the area, including one for the South Slave region.

Greg Whitlock, superintendent for the South Slave for the Department of Transportation said that while the ultimate responsibility rests with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA), each department has its role to play.

“Transportation has a plan for the South Slave that includes Hay River,” he told The Hub last week, noting that if an exodus was ordered, residents would not be entirely responsible for arranging transport for themselves and their families.

“We wouldn’t leave people to figure it out for themselves.”

-Sarah Ladik