An assessment has concluded Whitehorse has all the conditions that could result in a wildfire “calamity,” as consultant Dave Loeks put it to Whitehorse city council and senior management Thursday.
Loeks is head of TransNorthern Management Consulting. He and Al Beaver, who heads up Wildfire Risk Management Ltd., addressed a Whitehorse council and administrative roundtable Thursday, with Loeks highlighting that conditions in the city are similar to those in Fort McMurray, Alta., before the wildfire of 2016 that saw evacuations of the city and approximately 2,500 homes destroyed.
In total more than 88,000 had to leave the city, with two dying in traffic collisions.
TransNorthern is working on the city’s wildfire strategy (the assessment being the first part of that work with recommendations and implementation to be part of future work on the strategy) with Beaver also involved in the effort as a wildfire expert. Loeks was quick to point out that Whitehorse is an urban area sitting next to a forest.
“Virtually every neighbourhood in Whitehorse has this problem,” he said, going on to note over the last two decades there’s been more insistance from the public that something be done to address the fire risk to the city.
With a city largely surrounded by forest and just two routes in and out of town, the conditions are there for that fire to easily spread and major issues to arise.
Beaver emphasized the importance of understanding variables that could impact the Whitehorse fire situation.
It’s unlikely a wildfire like that in Fort McMurray could be stopped with the fire suppression measures currently in place.
With the assessment of the risk now finished, the next step will be looking at what needs to be done to address the risk, something Coun. Dan Boyd indicated he had thought would be coming forward sooner. City planning and sustainability manager Mélodie Simard said efforts are already underway considering recommendations for reducing wildfire risks and how to best implement those plans — work is being done with the territory and the two First Nations in the city on that.
At the same time, the city is also working on developing evacuation plans for each neighbourhood.
It’s anticipated another council and administrative roundtable will be held in a couple of months to focus on the recommendations. The evacuation plans will also likely be finished at that time, she said. Boyd emphasized the importance of working as quickly as possible on the strategy and plans with other council members also noting their interest in seeing the next stage of the plan coming forward.
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