Report recalls record forest fire year

Report recallsrecord forest fire year

24June 2005


It’s cheaper to let a cabin burn than it is to try to suppress a forestfire, states the 2004 Wildland Fire Review’s final report.
Approximately five trappers’ cabins were destroyed during last summer’smassive forest fire season, Dan Boyd, director of protective services in theterritorial Department of Community Services, said today.
He added there is the possibility that more cabins or trappers’ lines weredestroyed by the fires, and the department is simply unaware of it.
The destruction of remote property during fires is one of several dominantconcerns in the 97-page report released Thursday.
“The average value of the cabin and the contents is far below the suppressioncosts for fighting fires in the Wilderness Zone. Taking action on these fires isnot only expensive and impractical, but more importantly can compromisefirefighting on higher priority operations,” the report states.
In what was a record year for forest fires last year, 1.7 million hectaresburned, with direct firefighting costs hitting $21 million.
When there are so many fires occurring in the territory, it’s hard forWildland Fire Management to protect all the cabins, said Boyd.
“We do the best we can, where we can,” he said.
There were situations last summer where, due to other priorities, Wildland FireManagement was unable to respond to fires threatening cabins or it was too riskyto respond, Boyd added.
He added that when an individual chooses to build a small cabin in isolatedwilderness, he or she needs to acknowledge the risks involved and be prepared totake some precautions.
When trees have grown up almost right around a cabin, it’s extremely difficultto protect it even if fire management is on the scene, said Boyd.
The report recommends the Yukon government consider implementing a trappercompensation program for mainline cabins that are registered and later destroyedby wildland fires. However, it adds if such a program was to be instated, itshould be rigorous in its criteria and include FireSmart principles.
Boyd said at this point the recommendation in the report is merely a suggestion,and it’s before the government for its consideration.
“There are questions being asked and there is pressure in the area,” he said.However, it’s up to the government to decide what should be done, Boyd added.
The issue is further compromised by the question of the actual value of thecabins. Boyd stated that most of the cabins consumed weren’t much more than“shacks”, but the report touches on the possible intrinsic value of thesites.
When dealing with trappers’ cabins, traplines, seasonal first nation villagesand hunting and fishing lodges, the report’s public consultations found manyYukoners felt the government did not have an adequate understanding of theproperty’s value in relation to equipment, economic, historic and culturalsignificance.
“The panel also heard that there were inequities in what site-specific valueswere protected and which ones were not,” said the review.
The example given of houses of higher economic value in the Frances Lake areabeing protected, while cabins passed down through generations and integral totrapline activities were left to burn.”
While Boyd acknowledged that there are wilderness sites with significance in theterritory, he added that trying to put value on people’s property beyond itseconomic worth proves to be difficult.
It’s a hard question, he said, and it’s one that the report attempted tograpple with and present some recommendations.
Another concern brought forth in the report was communication as the firesneared cabins.
The report states that individuals who lost their cabins believed that ifthey’d been informed of the threat to their property, they could have at leasthad the opportunity to save some of the equipment.
“Every review of a large organized response to an event says there is stillmore we can do in regards to communication,” said Boyd.
The communication between those working on the operational response to the fireswas quite adequate, but more effort does need to be put into developing policiesfor communications with stakeholders, the media and other government branches,he said.
Overall, the report recommends a more aggressive tact when fighting forest fires.
Additional training and attacking some spring fires before they develop intoyear-long nuisances are some suggestions the department has already begunimplementing.
The report also provides suggestions regarding adjusting the zoning system, acommunication protocol that is inclusive of first nation and community values,an expanded heli-attack crew and fire management plans for woodland caribou andother wildlife populations.
“Yukoners can rest assured that we will consider all of these recommendationsfor the benefit of maintaining community safety,” Community Service MinisterGlenn Hart said Thursday.
Hart was unavailable for comment today.
The review was completed by a five-person panel that visited Yukon communitiesand met with approximately 320 individuals from December 2004 until March 2005.


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