N.W.T. minister urges emergency preparedness ahead of ‘high-risk’ wildfire season

MACA and ECC are participating in reviews of their response to the 2023 wildfire season. MACA Minister Vince McKay said in the legislature Wednesday that his department is taking lessons from the season and working to prepare for next year. He said N.W.T. residents should do the same. (Julie Plourde/Radio-Canada)

Two gov’t departments reviewing 2023 wildfire season to improve future response

The N.W.T.’s Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) is urging residents to prepare emergency kits, emergency plans and to get insurance ahead of the 2024 fire and flood season.

MACA is one of two government departments participating in a review of its response to the 2023 wildfire season, along with the Department of Environment and Climate Change (ECC).

MACA Minister Vince McKay said in the legislature Wednesday that his department is already implementing lessons from the summer’s fire season. He said the people of the Northwest Territories should do the same.

“Individuals and families should have household emergency plans, emergency kits and emergency contact information available, property owners and businesses should have insurance and plans to protect their property during emergencies, residents should be familiar with their community emergency plans,” McKay said.

He said climate change means the territory can expect more frequent and more severe wildfires and floods, and that while they can’t make exact predictions about wildfire and breakup seasons, they can take steps to prepare.

“I urge all residents to consider this as a 2024 high-risk season approaches,” McKay said.

Reviews called for 

Calls for a review, along with an independent inquiry, of the government’s response to the wildfires have been numerous since the many evacuations last summer and fall and the loss of homes, cabins and most of the community of Enterprise to fire. More than 4 million hectares of land burned across the territory.

Jay Macdonald, minister of ECC, said his department, too, is anticipating a difficult fire season and ECC is bringing in extra fire crews and aircraft to prepare.

He also said his department is meeting with N.W.T. community leaders to discuss planning for the spring and summer.

Macdonald said the review for his department — which is being conducted by a third-party contractor — began in November and is expected to be completed by the end of March. He said the report with its findings would be released in the spring.

MacKay told CBC News that MACA hasn’t yet hired a contractor for its review and that it hopes to do so within the next month. He said the hope is to then have the report be completed by the fall.

Public inquiry still necessary, MLA says

In the legislature Tuesday, Kieron Testart, MLA for Range Lake, gave notice that he and Dehcho MLA Sheryl Yakeleya will be calling for a public inquiry into the wildfire crisis.

The public inquiry would establish an independent board of four people to investigate the territorial government’s response to the 2023 wildfire season.

After hearing from the two ministers on their department’s reviews Wednesday, Testart told CBC News that he and Yakeleya are still of the opinion that a public inquiry is the way to go.

“I acknowledge the work the department is doing, it’s important work .. but it’s internal, it’s operational, it doesn’t matter if it’s a third party contractor, it’s still an internal process. We need an arms-length public inquiry,” he said.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Yukon government to review this summer’s wildfire evacuations in Mayo, Old Crow, CBC News

Norway: Smoke from Canadian wildfires forecast to reach Norway, The Associated Press

Russia: New NOAA report finds vast Siberian wildfires linked to Arctic warming, The Associated Press

Sweden: High risk of wildfires in many parts of Sweden, including North, Radio Sweden

United States: Wildfires in Anchorage? Climate change sparks disaster fears, The Associated Press

Natalie Pressman, CBC News

Natalie Pressman is a reporter with CBC North in Yellowknife. She can be reached at natalie.pressman@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @natpressman.

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