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South wildfire prevention project in Whitehorse will cost $1.6 million

The Fire Risk Reduction project will create a six kilometre fireguard along Copper Haul Road
Mayor Dan Curtis speaks to media about a Whitehorse South West Fire Risk Reduction project that will create a six-kilometre fire guard along the southwest corner of Whitehrose during a press conference at the Mount Sima parking lot on Sept. 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

The federal and Yukon governments are contributing funds to a $1.6 million project aimed at protecting Whitehorse from wildfire risk.

MP Larry Bagnell, Community Services Minister John Streicker and Mayor Dan Curtis announced funding for the project on Sept. 3.

The South Fire Risk Reduction project will create a six-kilometre fireguard along the southwest corner of Whitehorse along Copper Haul Road, an area spanning roughly from Mount Sima to Mary Lake.

All conifers will be removed from the 150 hectare area, in order to create a barrier to approaching fires and allow better access for fire crews.

“There’s a whole planning process that goes on ahead of time to assess where the highest risk is and where we can have the biggest impact with our investment,” Streicker said, explaining that the project takes into account a southerly wind in Whitehorse and the surrounding mountains.

Mayor Curtis referenced wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alta., Tahltan Nation territory in British Columbia, and California as reasons to be proactive, despite a relatively wet summer season in 2020.

“So it’s not just about the safety of our citizens and the buildings and dwellings, but it’s also the safety of the brave men and women that we have fighting fires, ensuring that the fire breaks and accesses are available for them to be able to do their job properly,” he said.

The federal government is providing $1.1 million for the project, while the Yukon government is providing $487,500.

“In these unprecedented times Yukoners, and all of us, have been taking up most of our time night and day with COVID. But we’re also trying to keep everyone safe from other things like climate change, environment and things that it causes. So we can’t forget those other files,” Bagnell said.

The bidding process closed on Aug. 18, and the government is in the process of selecting a contractor. The tender included the use of removed trees as biofuel to be sold off as burnable wood fuel.

“In recognition of that value, the project’s bids were lower than they would have been if the wood were designated as salvage. This means that the project will cost Yukoners less money,” Streicker said.

Additional fire prevention projects, including the Mary Lake Shaded Fuelbreak, have a completion goal of April 1, 2024 and will involve mitigation in 396 hectares.

Contact Haley Ritchie at