NWT Fire service says fire unlikely to reach Yellowknife

Yellowknife evacuations are complete and people are waiting for news of when they can return home

Although a wildfire remains within 15 km of Yellowknife, the territorial government’s fire service says it’s unlikely to reach the city within the next three days.

According to N.W.T. Fire’s most recent update, aerial support and rainfall over the last 72 hours is keeping the fire at bay and there are no new fires within the last 24 hours.

Crews continued Tuesday to battle wildfires that have forced seven out of every 10 Northwest Territories residents from their homes, about 30,000 people.

Fire information officer Mike Westwick says one fire remains about 15 kilometres from Yellowknife, the capital of 20,000 people, and one of multiple communities under an evacuation order.

Westwick says firefighting work at Fort Smith, on the Alberta-N.W.T. boundary, is expected to be particularly challenging given temperatures approaching 30 C.

“The situation remains serious across all our communities with active fires,” Westwick said in an interview.

“Air tankers are working tirelessly across our territory to knock down the intensity of these fires and give time for crews to get good work done on the ground.”

Read more:

‘Phased evacuation’ ordered for Yellowknife as wildfires continue to advance

The fire was last mapped as being over 167,000 hectares in size. As a general visual a football field is around one hectare in size.

The fire and three others in the surrounding area are expected to be pushed west on Monday, preventing them from significantly progressing.

While fire activity has been dampened by rain, deep-burning fire along a section of line remains a threat. That fire is currently being held down by weather conditions.

Meanwhile the update states the Tlicho community of Bechoko is not at threat.

“The significant burned area surrounding the community, alongside the strong perimeter built, mean the community is at very low risk,” it says.

No plans to return

A spokeswoman for the Northwest Territories’ emergency management organization says there have been reports of people returning to Fort Smith, or planning to return there, despite the wildfire risk.

Jennifer Young said residents need to know they will be stopped at established checkpoints and asked to verify whether they are an essential worker of an evacuated community before being let through.

Fort Smith’s 2,500 residents have been out for more than a week.

Westwick said fires that encroached close to the community of Jean Marie River last week have been kept at bay and no structures have been damaged.

“We’re looking towards hopefully being able to provide good news on that fire soon,” he said.

Flames remained about eight kilometres from Hay River, on the south end of Great Slave Lake, and Westwick said they expect a challenging week there of hotter and drier conditions and shifting winds.

“All of those winds we would expect to push the fire away from a river, but could cause fire growth, which always makes things more challenging,” he said.

The 20,000 residents of Yellowknife were ordered out last week and are staying in Alberta and other points south.

Westwick said the area received a negligent amount of rain overnight, but firefighters have been able to move to a direct attack on suppressing the flames.

“We remain of the assessment that the fire is highly unlikely to reach the outskirts of Yellowknife in the next three days,” he said.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Three other out of control fires in the North Slave region are threatening Yellowknife and the surrounding area.

A 50,000 hectare fire north of Ingraham Trail is now “highly unlikely” to reach the area, according to the update, thanks to forecast winds, successful firefighting efforts and slight rain.

Crews are now planning to establish control lines five kilometers north of Prelude Lake in the coming days to hold the fire back.

A third fire 29 kilometers southeast of the community of Dettah, as well as another 43 kilometers north of Yellowknife are also listed on N.W.T Fire’s update.

According to an article from Cabin Radio the Dettah wildfire is five kilometres from the southern end of Hearne Lake and 30 km west of the site of the former Blachford Lake Lodge. The fire’s plume was highly visible to the southeast on Monday and Tuesday.

The fire north of Yellowknife is relatively smaller in size at over 17,000 hectares and is currently being monitored.

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said for First Nations, the federal government is to fund the cost of the evacuations.

“We have committed to cover all eligible evacuation costs and recovery costs, which are still undetermined because, of course, the fires are still burning,” said Hajdu.

The N.W.T. legislative assembly, meanwhile, is set to be recalled to consider a law delaying the upcoming Oct. 3 territorial election due to the wildfire situation.

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