When a houseboat burns, how does the cleanup work?

To everyone’s relief, both occupants of a Yellowknife houseboat that caught fire early on Wednesday morning were able to reach safety.

However, the fire entirely destroyed the building itself – leaving behind only ruins on the houseboat’s former site in Yellowknife Bay.

One question raised by readers of Cabin Radio’s report about the fire was: who is responsible for cleaning up the remains when a houseboat burns?


The unique circumstances of houseboats – on the water and, in many respects, not subject to municipal jurisdiction – can cause uncertainty.

That same location means there’s a danger of a burned boat’s remains entering Yellowknife Bay as the ice melts.

We contacted the City of Yellowknife, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the territorial government to figure out where jurisdiction over an incident like this lies.

The answer is the houseboaters themselves (or their landlord, depending on how the boat is owned or let) are responsible, with the territorial government in charge of monitoring how that happens.

Joslyn Oosenbrug, a spokesperson for the NWT’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR), told Cabin Radio: “The responsibility for the cleanup itself is with the owner of the houseboat.”


Fortunately, there was no hydrocarbon contamination – such as from fuels – noted in the area, Oosenbrug added.

“An ENR Water Resources Officer inspected the site of the fire today … It appears all hydrocarbons were removed from the boat before the fire got out of control,” she said by email on Wednesday.

The occupants of the boat were already working on the cleanup when Cabin Radio visited the site on Wednesday afternoon, despite their earlier ordeal.

On Instagram, Yellowknife photographer Pat Kane paid tribute to the way in which community members had already rallied to help the occupants.


“The community always bands together in times like this to help any way they can,” wrote Kane, saying the occupants and their relatives had been “in good spirits” considering the magnitude of what had taken place.

Oosenbrug said ENR had been informed of the cleanup plan and remaining debris was set to be removed in the immediate future.

“ENR will monitor the cleanup as it occurs and conduct a final inspection of the site once cleanup is complete,” she said.