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Dawson City weighs in on draft of Community Wildfire Protection Plan

March 15, 2024  By Amy Kenny, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Yukon News

Fire map plans. (Submitted, Yukon News)

After fire smarting your property, if you want to bury the felled trees at your mine, Luc Bibeau thinks that’s a labour-intensive proposition, but, from a fire-safety perspective, not necessarily a bad one.

“Only in Dawson would this ever happen,” Bibeau said of the suggestion put forward by a Dawson resident during a public feedback session on a draft Community Wildfire Protection Plan. “It’s kind of negligible in terms of fire risk — if it’s covered in gravel, it can’t really burn.”

Bibeau is the manager of the prevention and mitigation unit with Yukon government’s Wildland Fire Management (WFM). He visited Dawson March 7 to present the draft and gather resident feedback.

He said the session was attended by roughly 20 people, most of whom had read the 37-page draft plan in advance.


“Doing [plans] proactively allows us to do them in a more planned, clearly thought-out, effective and clean way,” he said. “You can adjust [firesmarting] for heritage values and ecological values and all these things that, during an emergency, it’s not possible to get that information and incorporate it into the plan. You’re just responding and you’re being reactive.”

Bibeau said WFM started putting the plan together in 2020, but was stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Work on it picked up again around 2022 or 2023.

The plan gives an overview of fire history in the Dawson region, lays out mitigation options, and puts forward possible plans for four separate areas labelled west (including West Dawson, Upper West Dawson and Sunnydale), Moosehide, the City (including downtown Dawson, Dome subdivisions, Callison and Dredge Pond), and east (including Bear Creek, the airport, Rock Creek, and Henderson Corner).

He said session feedback focused partly on the areas of West Dawson and Sunnydale.

That’s because there’s a lot of potential on that side of the river for fires to start.

“In 2022, I think there were eight natural fire starts,” said Bibeau. “It’s decadent, older spruce forest. Continuous. And then you also have predominant winds coming out of the west there. So that’s a major risk to those folks. And obviously there’s limited access and egress in those areas.”

Bibeau said he expected people to show up with specific concerns about what was being proposed, including increasing resources and facilities for Sunnydale and West Dawson, completing evacuation plans, and encouraging firesmarting in Henderson Corner, Rock Creek and Bear Creek.

“I think it’s always a bit of a challenge blending the lifestyle that a lot of Yukoners want to live, of being in the bush, sort of, we’re in the woodland urban interface, and managing the risk in a way that’s appropriate,” he said. “I think that particularly in Dawson, people are not unfamiliar with fire.”

WFM is collecting feedback on the plan until March 28. That feedback is then compiled and taken back to the City of Dawson and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation. Once feedback from the municipality and the First Nation is also incorporated, the hope is both will endorse it. From there, the plan isn’t binding, but presents recommendations that can be pulled and implemented in the coming years.

In the meantime, Bibeau said there are smaller-scale firesmarting practices happening in the community He said he’s also noticed many Dawson residents have taken to firesmarting their own properties.

He was happy to hear it, but not surprised. He said Dawson is the busiest fire district in the territory, with an average of 22 fires a year.

And following the 2023 season, which was the biggest Canadian fire season on record, he said Yukoners seem even more motivated to mitigate fires.

He said that’s something he’s seeing in other communities as well, as WFM works on similar plans for Burwash Landing and Destruction Bay, Mayo, Old Crow, Beaver Creek and Watson Lake.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2023


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