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Tales from the Dump: What penalty for failing to evacuate?


It was the night they drove the old GNWT down.

And all the people were singing.

Hey, hey, ho, ho.

Fire’s burning, it’s time to go.

Now, I am trying to think of a diplomatic way to say this. Sometimes the government and its bureaucrats are rather biased, and they don’t always play nice or fair.

After the evacuation order was declared, it was pretty much everyone for themselves. Stories circulated that at noon on that fateful Friday everyone had to be out of town. And if they weren’t, the RCMP were going to be stopping people to see if they were essential or not. Also, they were going to knock on doors, looking for people and malcontents who would be charged and fined $1,000 a day for not obeying the order. Wow! Who knew they had that power. Or do they?

Since then, I have tried to search the internet to find out just what the rules are and to see if anyone in Canada in recent memory has ever been charged and fined for failing to obey an evacuation order. If they were, it’s a very well-kept secret.

One site I visited for B.C., went even further. They were threatening people with a $10,000 fine and a year in jail. Another site I visited said that if you did stay in town, they could issue an order confining you to your home and property. They said you would be completely on your own and would not get any help from anyone regardless of what happened.

Essential workers on the other hand could pretty much do what they wanted and visit any stores, restaurants, bars or liquor outlets that were open. Meanwhile you couldn’t even go out on the street to pick up litter or take your dog for a walk because a cop hiding in the bushes might jump out and arrest you. Wow again!

Who made up these rules and why can’t I find them anywhere written down as rules and not just political hearsay?

Here is another little question: essential workers were allowed to stay behind, but who decides who gets on the essential workers list and how do they define essential? It appears to have as much to do with who you know as with your willingness to fight fires. Some businesses stayed open, some closed. Some restaurants lost thousands of dollars in food that was spoiled while others did good business and made money from the evacuation. Also, some bars and the liquor stores were considered essential. So, I think we need a little more clarity on this. Also, some business owners and their staff stayed behind, just in case the fire threatened their buildings and assets. Others evacuated and could have lost everything.

Rethink needed

We really need to rethink some of our forest firefighting methods, rules and processes. Here is something to think about and it involves the priorities of different groups. A fellow from Fort McMurray stayed behind in his house during the fire. He was in a subdivision away from the main forest fire. He put out fires creeping near his house and saved it. Meanwhile a lot of other houses burned, not from the initial fire but from the later fire creep. All the professional firefighters were busy trying to save the infrastructure downtown. This happens all too often in fires.

Think about it this way: the forest firefighters work for the GNWT and if a fire reached Yellowknife their mandate or priority would be to save GNWT assets, not houses. The city fire department would be busy saving city assets, not houses. So, who is saving the houses? It would certainly seem appropriate and advantageous to let volunteers, who are able-bodied and know what they are doing, to stay behind to save as many houses as possible.

The mantra the government uses is, “If you stay behind, it puts you at risk, reduces resources to fight the fire and puts essential workers at risk.” Personally, I think this is a lot of gibberish and nonsense.

The government is wasting one of its most valuable resources: the people. If 100 or 200 able-bodied volunteers stayed behind to protect the city from spot fires and creeping fires, it’s a risk they are willing to take and if they eventually had to evacuate the city, they could easily do so by the lake. They would add to the resources used to fight the fire considerably. They would also be helping and protecting the essential workers, not putting them at risk.

So, I think the government really needs to re-think the way they do these evacuations and treat the public fairly and as allies not the enemy. Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho.