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Keno City residents' group calls for public inquiry into fire services after hotel burns up

A group representing residents of Keno City, Yukon, is calling for an independent public inquiry into the state of fire protection after a fire destroyed the town’s beloved hotel on Friday.

'We're angry because it didn't need to come to this,' said resident group member

The Keno City Hotel in Keno City, Yukon, was destroyed by fire Friday night. (Kevin O'Hara/Facebook)

A group representing residents of Keno City, Yukon is calling for an independent public inquiry into the state of fire protection after a fire destroyed the town's beloved hotel on Friday.

The Keno City Hotel — an iconic local landmark in the former mining boomtown, home to a few dozen residents and no fire department — went up in flames last week.

In an open letter addressed to the premier, ministers and the fire marshal, the Keno City residents' group says its fire truck was removed from the community without notice in April 2019.

The town, described in the letter as an old wooden historical community, has no volunteer fire department, and had to contact a volunteer force from Mayo, Yukon, about an hour's drive away to respond to Friday night's fire.

"Simply put, it was a very dangerous situation in which Keno City had no equipment and no support from the government. We got extremely lucky no one was in the hotel and there was little or no wind that night or much more of the town would have burned," read the letter.

"We have lost and continue to lose critical services which has and continues to diminish our capacity in town."

Water tank removed

The letter said a large water tank in Keno had also been removed by the territory's Department of Community Services. The night of the fire, the building housing the water truck and personal protective equipment for fire fighters was locked. The keys had previously been taken away from the residents.

"We were basically doing our best to defend our town with a couple of fire extinguishers and garden hoses," said Amber Smith, a member of the Keno City residents' group.

"We're angry because it didn't need to come to this."

Community Services Minister John Streicker responded to Smith on Tuesday, saying he would be "happy to support" an independent investigation into fire safety in Keno and other unincorporated communities. 

"We will reach out to Keno folks shortly to discuss," said Streicker in an open email.

Prior to the letter's release, Streicker said his department tried to recruit firefighters in Keno, but to no avail.

"The challenge is not equipment," he said on Monday during a sitting of Yukon's legislature. "I'm not able to put equipment in hands of folks unless they're trained. It's not allowed. It's not safe."

Streicker was asked about the letter in the legislative assembly on Tuesday. He again pointed to a lack of volunteers as the main issue in Keno. 

Deputy Community Services Minister Allan Koprowsky told CBC's Midday Cafe there has not been an active fire department in Keno since 2012.

He said recruitment efforts will continue and emphasized the importance of fire prevention.

With files from Chris Windeyer

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