North

Dettah unveils sprinkler system to protect 3 communities from wildfires

The Yellowknives Dene community partnered with the City of Yellowknife and the neighbouring community of Ndilo on a sprinkler system that could slow the advance of wildfires approaching the three communities.

Federal funding, joint planning by Yellowknife and First Nation made project possible

The Yellowknives Dene community partnered with the City of Yellowknife and the neighbouring community of Ndilo on a sprinkler system that could slow the advance of wildfires approaching the three communities. (John Van Dusen/CBC)

Wildfires will have to fight a little harder to reach Dettah, N.W.T., thanks to new fire prevention technology unveiled last week.

The Yellowknives Dene community partnered with the City of Yellowknife and the neighbouring community of Ndilo on a sprinkler system that could slow the advance of wildfires approaching the three communities.

"The forest fire has been more intense, more frequent, and it's coming closer to the community," said Yellowknives Dene Chief Edward Sangris. "We needed to collaborate … to work smarter, not harder."

The three communities obtained $175,000 in funding from the federal government's Climate Change Preparedness in the North program. The program helps northern communities adapt to the risks posed by climate change.

Sangris said forest fires have become 'more intense, more frequent and ... closer to the community' in recent years. (John Van Dusen/CBC)

The money will be spent partly on clearing dead and dangerously dry vegetation in at-risk areas identified near each of the three communities.

But on Friday afternoon in Dettah, the big show was the demonstration of the sprinkler technology that could put the brakes on a wildfire's advance.

"The sprinklers we're using are actually agricultural sprinklers … to wet the fine fuels — the grasses, the twigs, the stuff that ignites easily," said Albert Roach, the owner of Alberta-based A.S. Roach Fire Services, which provided the technology.

"We know from making campfires, if your kindling's wet, you have a hard time making the good stuff go. So we make the kindling wet so the houses don't go."

Wildfires looking to visit beautiful Dettah, N.W.T., will receive a cold welcome, thanks to a new sprinkler system designed to slow their advance. (Graham Shishkov/CBC)

In the event of a fire, the sprinklers will be deployed to wet the ground where the wildfire might advance on the community. As the fire passes, they will be used to suppress the flames, and ensure nothing sparks in its aftermath.

The last couple of years have been quieter, but in 2014 the territory saw a record-breaking forest fire season. That year, 385 fires burned in the N.W.T., burning 3.4 million hectares of forest land, and costing the territorial government $56.1 million.

Based on 20-year averages, in a regular year the N.W.T. experiences about 245 fires affecting 570,000 hectares of land, a 2015 report found.

Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty, speaking at the demonstration, said protecting Dettah matters to Yellowknifers too.

"It's important that we're working together, because something that impacts one community has the threat to impact the other," she said. "If there is a fire in Dettah … our crews are going to come in and help."

The system could also be deployed to protect Yellowknife from advancing fires — though Alty said she'd rather it was never used at all.

"Hopefully, we'll never have to see the system in place," she said.

The system was demonstrated for the leaders of each of the three communities behind the initiative on Friday afternoon. (Graham Shishkov/CBC)

With files from John Van Dusen

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