Hot and windy weather saw a fire encroach quickly upon the sole transportation route to Fort Smith on Saturday, temporarily closing Highway 5 as crews from both Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) and Parks Canada worked together to protect the road.
Rapid action by both agencies saw the highway re-open Sunday morning, and rain on Monday granted crews across the Northwest Territories some “short-term reprieve,” according to ENR fire operations manager Rick Olsen.
The fire, known as ‘Fire 7’ by Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) personnel, is a 1,400-hectare fire approximately 45 km west of Fort Smith. Though it originally started in the park due to lightning Friday night, it crossed the park boundary into the NWT on Saturday.
According to Parks, fire crews are engaging in facility protection measures for values at risk in the area.
Another fire, ‘Fire 12’, is burning 80 km west of Fort Smith about 6 km west of Highway 5 within WBNP. That fire is currently being suppressed by fire crews and helicopters.
Because the road could close at any time, drivers are advised to check with the NWT department of Transportation prior to travelling on Highway 5.
Olsen said the NWT is enjoying a little downturn in temperature, which is assisting all fire efforts. Though lightning has been rolling through, there has been some associated rain from Whati to Fort Smith, which looks to be expanding west into the Dehcho.
“It may or may not extend east into Yellowknife and into the East Arm,” Olsen said. “We are expecting it will have a little bit of a short-term reprieve this week.”
While conditions are expected to dry up mid-week, Olsen said there might be more moisture coming into the territory by the end of the week.
“Overall, conditions are fairly calm. We’ve got a chance to finish up with the fires we’re dealing with, and thankfully we’ve had no new problem fires that we aren’t able to manage at this point in time,” he said.
Season still ‘well above average’
There have been 55 fires to date in what has been an early and rapid start to the NWT fire season. Of those, 39 are still burning.
More than 100,000 hectares have burned since the beginning of May, over twice the normal average for this time of year. Typically, some 18 fires would have burned around 40,000 hectares by early June.
Crews wrap up work on other fires near NWT highways
“We’re still well above our normal average,” Olsen said.
So far this year, NWT fire crews have actioned 27 fires. Twelve are being actioned currently, the majority of which is monitoring for value protection, Olsen said.
The Dehcho region has seen the most fires, at 21. Another 14 have burned in the South Slave, four in the North Slave, seven in the Sahtu and one in Inuvik.
Of this year’s fires, 40 have been caused by lightning, seven have been human-caused and eight were holdovers from last year – fires that burned so deeply into the ground, they survived the cold winter.
Last week’s work to slow two fires nearing road infrastructure were successfully managed by ENR crews. The one fire south of Behchoko on Highway 3 – the largest in the territory, at 20,000 hectares – is almost wrapped up and back to a monitoring stage. The other, located 20 km east of Jean Marie River and just north of Highway 1, is now considered under control and crews are being demobilized.
12 fires in WBNP
There have been 12 fires, to date, in WBNP. The largest of those is ‘Fire 4’, a 106,500-hectare blaze formed by several fires 18 km east of Garden River on the south side of the Peace River.
Parks Canada incident management teams have been deployed to Garden River to manage the fire, and small-scale burnout operations have taken place to limit spotting in unburned areas.
An incident management team and crews have also been brought in from other national parks to assist with wildfire management.
Moderate to high levels of smoke are anticipated for the communities of Garden River, Fort Smith and Fort Chipewyan throughout the week.
The majority of WBNP fires are in remote areas of the park and being monitored.
There is currently no fire ban in WBNP, but all campfires must be located in designated fireboxes only. Visitor services have not been affected.