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Second fire in Keno this winter burns down home

The incident is renewing calls for a solution to the lack of local fire response
A home burns in Keno City on Feb. 10. This is the second building to be destroyed by fire in the community this winter, prompting more calls from residents for the Yukon government to do more to protect Keno City and other unincorporated communities. (Amber Smith/Submitted)

A second building has burned down in Keno City, renewing calls for a solution to the lack of fire services within the community.

Neighbour Amber Smith said the fire that consumed a residential home started around 10 a.m. on Feb. 10. Resident Andy Price was able to escape the fire unharmed along with his cat and Smith said he is being supported by the wider community and has a place to stay.

The community does not have a functioning well, firetruck or trained volunteers to respond to fires right now. Smith, who is also part of the Keno City Residents Council, said she and her partner called 911 and ran over with a fire extinguisher.

They even attempted to hook up a hose to their kitchen but were unable to stop the flames from spreading.

“Other residents were on hand helping to remove any combustible items out of the way and helping to remove some personal items and furniture, whatever could be safely removed. Then we stood back and watched it all come down, very much like the hotel fire,” said Smith.

“Even though it was cold, the weather was on our side, there was no wind, so nothing was getting blown around,” she said.

Eventually, the volunteer fire team from Mayo responded, but with a 45 to 60 minute response time, they were unable to get there in time.

“Of course, by that point it was, you know, it was smoldering, pretty much down to the ground, there was almost nothing left of the structure,” Smith said.

Staff from Alexco was able to move a trailer from the property in order to avoid further damage.

The fire is the second building destroyed in the past three months in the 24-person community. On Dec. 11 residents watched helplessly as the historic Keno City Hotel burned down.

Following the hotel fire, a group of Keno City residents have called for a public inquiry into the lack of fire protection in the community.

Community Services Minister John Streicker has publicly agreed with the idea of undertaking an independent review. He said fire prevention is a “shared responsibility” between residents in the community and the Yukon government and they want to find a solution.

“It’s everybody’s job to try and do their part to try and keep their homes and places safe. Then it’s our job to train up and equip and outfit volunteer fire crews in our communities. We rely on our communities to step forward with volunteers. So it’s definitely shared,” he said.

Smith said there are willing volunteers — the community has had volunteer fire crews in the past — but a process to getting trained and certified that includes doctors assessments, paperwork, criminal background checks and travel to other communities is discouraging people.

“There are systemic problems in that process, which we have been dialoguing with them on for the last three years,” said Smith. “It still does not take YG off the hook for finding a way to protect our community or other communities like us, which are unincorporated.”

“The whole system that they have in place for fire protection in communities is fundamentally flawed. Which is why we have asked for an independent investigation, not only into what’s happening in Keno, but to other unincorporated communities,” she said.

Streicker said the training is a question of safety, not just liability.

Kat Hallett, a communications analyst with the department, said there is very little flexibility when it comes to the requirements to become a volunteer firefighter across the territory.

“We can’t put people in harm’s way. If there are barriers, let’s figure them out. I still need people to step forward,” Streicker said. “I appreciate that there are folks in the community that feel they’d be better with a hose. But in order to make sure that people can be safe in fighting fires, we need them to be trained. I don’t know any way around that.”

Smith said right now frustrations in the community are boiling over because residents already feel unsafe.

“The solution is, well, we’ll just pull everything out of your town instead because that’s safer for you. In the meantime, two structures have burned down,” she said.

Contact Haley Ritchie at