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Don’t let carelessness cause the next wildfire

We must be vigilant to prevent wildfires
Roy Erasmus
Roy Erasmus column standard

So, summer is here again! After a weird June, we have warm weather and I see people walking around laughing and joking with others. They’re just happy to be outside without wearing a winter parka. Woohoo!

Yes, summer is a time to enjoy our wonderful outdoors. The kids are out of school and people want to go camping, fishing or boating, or to cookouts. Others are going to the beach, walking, jogging or playing games like soccer.

Thank heavens it’s not all smoky like last summer. It was quite a year, eh? Two-thirds of the NWT’s population was evacuated from their home communities. In fact, some Fort Smith residents were evacuated twice in a matter of days: from Smith to Hay River, then south from Hay River the next day. Now that is what you call being traumatized.

Thankfully, one of the four priorities of the legislative assembly is “access to healthcare and addressing the effects of trauma.” Also, in a few years, people will be able to come to our trauma healing lodge to help them deal with such traumatic events.

Yes, last year was a humdinger. It started with a fire on the Hay River Reserve in May that caused the reserve and the town of Hay River to evacuate. In early June, Sambaa K’e (Trout Lake) evacuated, then Wekweeti.

And then of course total mayhem followed in July and August, beginning with Tulita and Inuvik being placed on evacuation alert and Yellowknife, Behchoko, Hay River, Fort Smith and Kakisa all evacuated. To boot, most of Enterprise burned down.

Talking about wildfires reminds me of when I went firefighting as a teenager. We were gone for about a week and my mom had given birth to my youngest brother Sean while we were out. When we got back, my sister was holding Sean and I said, “Whose baby is that?” That’s how observant I was as a teenager. Eschia, take it easy eh!

Human-caused wildfires

This year is different. So far, the only community that has been evacuated is Fort Good Hope, with people going to Norman Wells, Deline and to a fish camp on the Mackenzie River.

Unfortunately, officials said this fire started from a campfire that was not properly put out. Of course, there’s all kinds of speculation of who was foolish enough to leave the campfire without making sure it was out.

The Environment and Climate Change website says “The most dangerous wildfires are caused by humans – they’re usually closer to places where there are people or property than (fires) caused naturally.”

This Fort Good Hope incident is a prime example of that. The fire started a few kilometers from town and quickly exploded into a huge fire that forced residents to evacuate. So far, it’s not as bad as last summer’s human-caused fire on the Hay River Reserve that burned down 16 housing units and the band office. That campfire was abandoned while a fire ban was in place.

This year, NWT Fire says people have caused eight of the nine wildfires reported around Yellowknife and 16 of the 36 fires across the NWT. That means 44 per cent of this year’s wildfires were because of human activity.

I can’t understand how people can be so careless when two-thirds of the NWT population was evacuated last year.

Preventing wildfires starts with you

Another thing the Environment and Climate Change website says is, “Preventing wildfires starts with you.” It explains several simple things we can do to help prevent wildfires.

Number one is to PUT OUT YOUR CAMPFIRE! It says we should bring a bucket to extinguish the fire using water or sand, if there’s no water. It says, “Soak it, stir it, and soak it again. Make sure there’s no sign of fire before you leave.”

And for heaven’s sake, call the wildfire hotline at 1-877-698-3473 to report any fire or smoke you see. So, keep your eyeballs peeled if you’re out and about.

Unattended campfires are extremely dangerous. If you see one, put it out immediately if you can, because even small fires can spread quickly, like at Fort Good Hope and Hay River.

Make sure you put your cigarettes out, especially if you’re driving! Never, ever throw a lit cigarette out of the car! Put it out, and if it stinks, throw it in the garbage at your next stop. Remember, one cigarette can cause tremendous damage and evacuations.

Governments issue fire bans to protect us because the forests are so dry it would be really hard to put out a fire that gets out of control. So, let’s do our part and obey fire bans.

Finally, we need to “use our logic” with fireworks. That means to set them off in clear areas where nothing flammable is nearby, like trees and “the bush.” Better yet, don’t light them at all this summer.

People who use fireworks have a legal responsibility to ensure any fireworks used near “the bush” are completely out. This potentially means you can be sued for the cost of putting out a fire and for the damages you cause. Is your light show worth that?

As it says on the Environment and Climate Change website, “Don’t let carelessness cause the next wildfire.” I’m sure you don’t want to be the one who causes millions of dollars of damage to your community, like some careless person did at the Hay River Reserve.