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Communities learn wildfire prevention strategies
First NWT FireSmart workshop for local representatives takes place in Fort Smith

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, May 4, 2013

A workshop in Fort Smith has brought together representatives from many NWT communities to talk all things FireSmart - the program designed to lessen the danger from wildfires.

NNSL photo/graphic

The FireSmart program is designed to prepare communities for wildfires. Smoke from a fire near Highway 5, about 95 km west of Fort Smith, in June of 2011 required a roadblock to be set up and traffic to be guided through the area by pilot vehicles. - NNSL file photo

Twenty-nine people attended the two-day gathering on April 30 and May 1.

They came from communities such as Wekweti, Whati, Behchoko, Kakisa, Norman Wells, Enterprise, Tsiigehtchic and the host community of Fort Smith.

"Pretty well all the regions of the North were represented from various communities," said Westly Steed, the FireSmart co-ordinator with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

While the FireSmart program has been in the NWT for a decade or so, this was the first workshop in the NWT for local FireSmart representatives, including fire chiefs, assistant fire marshals, community planners, a bylaw officer, emergency response personnel, town councillors, First Nations elders and leaders, and others.

Steed said the purpose was to advance the FireSmart program in the NWT.

"I think it did a great job actually," he said.

The FireSmart program helps communities and their residents reduce the threat from wildland fires by taking a number of steps, which can include thinning trees near houses and keeping gardens free of combustible materials.

"The idea is developing some capacity at the community level to be able to do some of the FireSmart principles themselves," Steed said of the workshop.

The FireSmart co-ordinator noted the program has already been introduced in many of the communities represented at the workshop and they have community wildfire protection plans. "But moving the FireSmart program forward is going to require someone on the ground in the local community we like to call them community champions to further the FireSmart program as far as we'd like to see it go," he said.

Steed said the local FireSmart representatives at the workshop may become community champions themselves or may help find others to champion the cause.

"Some of them might help spur the program forward by introducing the FireSmart principles and FireSmart program in their communities," he said.

One of the participants at the workshop was Stephanie Cudmore, the bylaw enforcement officer in Fort Simpson.

"It was a very good workshop. I did learn a lot," said Cudmore, who is involved in community planning and is also a volunteer firefighter.

She said she learned how to protect homes from wildfires and how to be proactive, rather than reactive.

Cudmore said she will share the knowledge she acquired with Fort Simpson residents and show them ways to protect their houses.

For instance, she noted it might be convenient to stack firewood close to houses in the winter, but it should be stored away from homes and covered in the summer.

As a local FireSmart representative, she doesn't think she will become a community champion herself. Instead, she would like to see a number of community champions in various areas of Fort Simpson.

Steed said research has proven the program can absolutely help communities by reducing the threat around people's houses.

"If you can do what you can to reduce that threat, homes survive," he said. "The statistics are proven that 85-90 per cent of homes that have reduced the threat according to the FireSmart principles tend to survive wildfires moving into there."

The workshop was facilitated by two representatives of the Partners in Protection Association, which is the national non-profit organization that launched FireSmart.

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