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Yukon wildfire officials deny budget cuts

The head of the Yukon government's wildland fire service is refuting an NDP MLA's claims that it faces budget cuts that could put Yukoners' safety at risk during this summer's forest fire season.

 

The head of the Yukon government's wildland fire service is refuting an NDP MLA's claims that it faces budget cuts that could put Yukoners' safety at risk during this summer's forest fire season.

Ken Colbert, director of the Yukon Wildland Fire Management Branch was responding to claims by NDP MLA Steve Cardiff, who said budget cuts to the branch amount to nearly $1 million.

In an open letter to the public, Cardiff said the air tanker base in Dawson City, Yukon, is being closed down, there will be a 40 per cent staffing cut at fire observation towers, and no helicopter is being contracted to be on standby for the wildfire season.

But Colbert said Cardiff was given erroneous information on the matter.

"There are no major cuts in wildland fire management," Colbert told CBC News on Friday.

"Someone probably mentioned that … our current contractor will be up at the end of next fire season," he said. "That don't mean we're not going to have a new contract."

No staffing cuts

As for staffing, Colbert said there have been "some adjustments" but no cuts. He added that his branch is committed to providing the best possible service.

Cardiff said he is not surprised by the official response, and he stands by the information he has.

"We'd probably get a response similar to what we would get in the legislative assembly, which is basically no response at all and telling us 'Don't worry, be happy,' basically," he said.

Cardiff said he believes the wildland fire management cuts will compromise public safety and jeopardize the safety of firefighters.

"What does it say about the people who put their lives on the line out there and do this work, if we're not fully funding the service?" he said.

Cardiff said the budget cuts are particularly troubling, given the wildfire situation in northern Alberta and Yukon's long-term forecast.

"We see what's happening in Alberta right now. It's pretty scary," Cardiff said. "And from what I understand, we're forecast to have a hot, dry summer here in the territory."