Deh Cho MLA Ron Bonnetrouge is seeking an investigation into the response to the catastrophic wildfire that struck Enterprise earlier this month.
“I think my big concern there is the lead time leading up to the fire,” he said during an emergency meeting of the legislative assembly on Monday, Aug. 28. “Because they were in the middle of a festival (the Gateway Jamboree) — Friday, Saturday and Sunday (residents) were out (celebrating). I believe the department had advanced knowledge of the fire and it wasn’t relayed to anyone, not even to me, not even to the residents of Enterprise.”
Bonnetrouge said he realizes it was high winds that quickly escalated the fire danger.
There didn’t appear to be any GNWT fire crews in the community of close to 100 people, he said. He added that some residents took it upon themselves to attempt to suppress flare-ups from the blaze.
“I feel for those people that lost their homes, their businesses. Oh my god, it’s devastating,” he said.
Bonnetrouge was perplexed why the situation unfolded in such a manner.
“How did we let that happen? In the past we had people that manned the fire towers and ENR (Environment and Natural Resources) at that time, they did away with them, saying, ‘Well, we’ve got satellites.’”
He questioned if a person staffing a fire tower would have been more effective than a satellite in this instance.
“I think that will haunt me for the rest of my life,” said the Deh Cho MLA, who counts Enterprise among the communities in his constituency. “What happened? Where were the crews? Why was no advance warning given?”
Although Bonnetrouge was seeking answers from the minister of Environment and Climate Change (ECC), Shane Thompson, the floor was turned over to Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek since Bonnetrouge mentioned that the costs to rebuild are relevant to territorial budget discussions.
“The very specific details of firefighting efforts are really not something that we’re in a position to answer to today,” said Wawzonek. “We were all, I think, affected by watching one of the communities of the Northwest Territories be so decimated by a wildfire and at the same time, multiple communities being then so urgently removed.
“I heard it described to me, when that fire moved almost 40 km in a day, senior members of the firefighting team described it as a nightmare. They were outright shell-shocked,” she added.
Wawzonek declined to refer the question to the ECC minister because she said another forum would be better suited to allow for fulsome discussion and an opportunity for question and debate, whereas Monday was dedicated to tackling costs.
“I know people will be frustrated that this is not today but today is really about making sure those firefighters who are still fighting those fires have the resources to do so,” she said.
Bonnetrouge expressed his disappointment that Thompson did not respond to his questions. He also reiterated that it would be worthwhile to examine whether resuming the use of fire towers to give advanced warnings is still useful.
“Somebody from a tower would have seen that fire really moving. Why didn’t we fight it ASAP?” he asked.
He also served notice that he plans to raise the issue again during the next sitting of the legislative assembly.