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Independent Reviews of Wildfire and Emergency Response for 2023 Wildfire Season Underway

by ahnationtalk on February 16, 202449 Views

February 15, 2024

Work is underway to complete independent reviews of the 2023 wildfire season to gain a full understanding of the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) wildfire and emergency response.

The ultimate goals of these reviews are to improve our effectiveness as a government and ensure we have appropriate preparedness and response strategies in place going forward.

This work has two separate components:

  • An independent review of wildfire operations (i.e. wildfire management decisions and actions), led by the department of Environment and Climate Change
  • An independent review of emergency response (i.e. preparation, evacuations, hosting, supports), led by the department of Municipal and Community Affairs.

There will be a significant public engagement component to both reviews.

Northwest Territories residents will play a critical role in helping us understand what worked, what could have been done differently, and how we can enhance and improve responses in the future. It will be important to hear from residents, businesses, and non-government organizations across the NWT.

As part of the wildfire operations review, targeted engagement with community governments, Indigenous governments, and Indigenous organizations who directly participated in the operational response to wildfires ZF015 (Behchokǫ/Yellowknife Fire) and SS052 (Enterprise/Hay River Fire) will occur.

Both reports will be publicly released once complete. The wildfire operations review is expected to be released in Spring 2024, and the emergency response review is expected to be released in Fall 2024. For timelines, see the attached infographic.

While reviews are undertaken, there remains an urgency to implement changes before the next wildfire season. Some of the actions we are taking ahead of the 2024 wildfire season include:

  • Bringing more fire crews, equipment, and aircraft on early to be ready to respond to overwinter fires and new wildfires
  • Reviewing and updating the NWT Emergency Plan
  • Updating standard operating procedures
  • Enhanced training for GNWT staff
  • Reviewing and updating Community Wildfire Protection Plans
  • Supporting community governments to improve emergency management capacity through various activities including sharing templates for emergency plans, communications tools and other useful documents, workshops, and tabletop exercises.
  • Enhanced preparedness advice to the public and community governments in advance of the wildfire season.

Quote(s)

“Last year’s wildfire season was a stark reminder of the need to adapt and prepare for emergency situations that are becoming more frequent and extreme due to climate change. It is incredibly important that the public has an opportunity to share their experiences as part of the review process as it will help provide a greater understanding of the 2023 wildfire season and ensure we have appropriate preparedness and response strategies in place going forward.”

  • RJ Simpson, Premier of the Northwest Territories

“I know first-hand how devastating and disruptive emergencies can be. I offer my sympathy and support to all those who have experienced loss, and my thanks to all residents for their continued resilience. I want residents to know that these extensive reviews are a priority for this government. We already know that they will highlight gaps in our government’s emergency response, but they will also inform how we prepare for, manage, and recover from emergencies in the future.”

  • Vince McKay, Minister, Municipal and Community Affairs

“Not only in my role as Minister but also as resident deeply affected by the events of 2023, I welcome the enhanced independent review of the wildfire response last summer. I am incredibly proud of the hard work and dedication of those who helped protect our communities and the residents of the NWT, and I welcome the opportunity to improve how they can be better supported in this work. It is our job as leaders to learn from the challenges we faced in an emergency of this scale and put those lessons to work to ensure we respond effectively going forward. Our government is committed to doing just that.”

  • Jay Macdonald, Minister, Environment and Climate Change

Quick Facts

  • For the first time in the NWT, homes and businesses in communities were lost due to wildfire. Cabins outside of multiple different communities were also lost.
  • Over 4.1 million hectares of forest were affected by 303 wildfires during the 2023 wildfire season.
  • The 2023 wildfire season saw extreme drought conditions, record temperatures, and unusually high winds in many parts of the territory – resulting in extreme fire behaviour.
  • Annually, regional wildfire management teams undertake community engagement sessions across all regions where community governments, Indigenous governments, Indigenous organizations, and community members are provided information about wildfire response, and given the opportunity to have their say on wildfire management. Opportunities for input in this process will be available in-person and online. Announcements and schedules are forthcoming.
  • The following communities were evacuated due to wildfire threat:
    • Enterprise
    • Hay River (twice)
    • Kátł’odeeche First Nation Reserve (twice)
    • Fort Smith, including Salt River First Nation
    • Wekweètì
    • Sambaa K’e
    • Jean Marie River
    • Kakisa
    • Behchokǫ̀
    • Yellowknife
    • Ndilǫ
    • Dettah

Related Links

For media requests, please contact:

Regarding review of evacuations, hosting, and other public safety activities
Jay Boast
Senior Communications and Planning Advisor
Municipal and Community Affairs
Government of the Northwest Territories
Jay_Boast@gov.nt.ca
(867) 767-9162 ext. 21044

NT4

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