Fort Smith plagued by out of control wildfire in Wood Buffalo

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The Town of Fort Smith is still on alert from a wildfire that continues to burn out of control in Wood Buffalo National Park.

The wildfire, sparked by lightning on June 14, blazed through more than 65,000 hectares southwest of Fort Smith near Pine Lake over the week and caused plumes of dark smoke to billow over the community.

Despite the ominous smoke, Parks Canada and the Town of Fort Smith assured residents the community was in “no imminent danger” from the wildfire.

“There are no fires in the immediate area that may cause a danger to the community,” the town posted online last Wednesday.

Parks Canada spokesperson Tim Gauthier confirmed with The Journal Wednesday afternoon that the fire “does not threaten the community” of Fort Smith.

Despite still classified as “out of control,” Parks Canada maintained the fire is not a threat to the town in their fire report posted the morning of Monday, June 23.

As a precaution, the town urges residents to keep their vehicles filled up with gas, remove flammable debris from their yards, cut their grass and water their lawns.

Southerly winds caused significant smoke to blow into Fort Smith last week, which prompted a smoke warning from Parks Canada. Smoke was also expected in Fort Chipewyan from other fires in Alberta.

Pine Lake fire timeline

According to Gauthier, Parks Canada responded to the fire immediately last week by calling in air tankers to drop water and fire retardant at the head of the fire as well as the southern and eastern flanks to slow its growth in those directions.

By last Monday evening, the fire grew to 10,000 hectares, which caused Parks Canada to close off the Pine Lake access road, only allowing those with cabins in the area past to retrieve belongings.

On Tuesday morning, a Parks Canada incident management team was called in to assist Parks’ fire management crew to battle the blaze, which was one of five burning in the park.

On Tuesday evening, Parks conducted a burnout operation to reduce fuel sources between the fire and “key values at risk in the area,” which include Pine Lake Recreation Area and the Pine Lake road.

By midweek, the wildfire grew to 33,300 hectares and reached last year’s burn area, 25 km outside of town, which limited its growth to the north despite the southerly winds, according to Gauthier.

On Friday, a high volume sprinkler system was deployed to the Pine Lake area as a precautionary measure to keep flames away from Parks’ facilities and private cabins.

The fire crew continued to battle the blaze over the weekend, spreading marginally to the east. The former burn area continues to halt growth towards the community.

Fire ban for Dehcho, South Slave and North Slave

With the NWT expected to see hot and dry conditions over the next several days, the government announced a fire ban for territorial parks and day use areas in the Dehcho, South Slave and North Slave.

Only camp stoves, enclosed barbecues and propane fire rings within designated fire pits are permitted.

There have been 72 fires in the NWT in 2014 as of Monday, 56 of which are still active including seven out of control or being held.

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