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Mr. Speaker, wildfire season is here and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, or ENR, and our dedicated wildfire management team are ready.
Today, I would like to provide an update on what ENR has done to get ready for the 2021 fire season, and the role residents and communities across the Northwest Territories have in preventing wildfires.
Mr. Speaker, preparation for the wildfire season begins with people. To that end, we have made sure we have well-trained and well-prepared staff and contractors in-place to respond to wildfire across every region, and they are all ready to go.
We have 37 four-person crews at-the-ready to attack early and fast. This includes 10 Indigenous-owned companies contracted to provide local firefighting services. This will serve not only to keep us safe, but to build and maintain the skills needed for careers in forest management.
Mr. Speaker, protecting our people and our communities is top-of-mind as we deliver these essential services in a pandemic. Our wildfire team has maintained strong COVID-19 protocols since the pandemic began in 2020, and made some adjustments to how we fight fires to keep people safe.
This year is no different. We continue to have exposure control plans in place designed to protect our staff from the office to the fire-line. We have hired additional staff in smaller communities to make it much less likely we will need to bring in firefighters from other regions or from outside the NWT. We have also added two additional air tankers to help us respond quickly when fires are small.
We have specific requirements for firefighters if they go to other jurisdictions to help, and we’ve worked closely with those jurisdictions to ensure best practices are followed.
Mr. Speaker, our government is targeting a significant reduction in human caused fires in the NWT over the next five years, and everyone has a role to play. It starts with personal responsibility. It is about taking that extra time to douse your campfire with water. It is about getting a burn permit if you’re cleaning up yard waste and following the defined safety requirements. It is about doing your part to stay informed on wildfire danger in your area and choosing not to have open fires if the fire danger is high or extreme, and it is about understanding that fire restrictions are put in place for a reason and following them.
Mr. Speaker, our government invests in outreach and education to give folks the tools to prevent wildfires. Our staff work with schools and community organizations to provide practical advice to those heading out on the land. They work with local governments to give support and advice as they implement community wildfire protection plans.
Mr. Speaker, even with best efforts toward prevention, there will always be wildfires. That is where FireSmart principles come in. FireSmart is a practical guide to proactively reduce the risk of damage to your home or cabin before a wildfire. Many of the actions can be done easily and do not cost much and every single one is proven to make a real difference. We are encouraging individuals and communities to step up and do what they can. We are planning events to build FireSmart awareness at the grassroots level. We are getting these principles out online and over the airwaves. We are ready to work with home and cabin owners looking for FireSmart advice.
Mr. Speaker, as the ground dries out and fire danger rises, I urge everyone to take their responsibility for preventing and protecting against wildfire seriously. It’s good for our territory, and it’s good for our firefighters.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.