Firefighters in the Northwest Territories are gearing up for a difficult long weekend ahead as a storm is expected to hit the South Slave region where wildfires continue to burn out of control.
Reports from fire officials on Wednesday say a quiet few days of weather activity has allowed crews to hold the blazes in Hay River and Fort Smith but conditions are expected to change.
“Potential for a thunderstorm (Thursday) afternoon may bring erratic winds and unpredictable fire behaviour,” an update from Hay River said.
The streak of poor fire fighting weather will continue over the weekend as a “severe wind event” is expected on Friday.
“Friday has the potential to be a very challenging day of firefighting – with hot, dry, conditions and winds from the south-southwest, southwest…This would cause significant growth of the fire to the east,” an online update on the Hay River fire reads.
The blaze is about 1.5 kilometres from the town’s centre and one kilometre from the airport and West Point First Nation. It “breached” Paradise Gardens and Patterson Road south of Hay River earlier this month.
Over the last few days, smoke has been aiding crews by shading the sun from the ground, keeping moisture locked in. But an “uncertain forecast” is ahead.
“With the potential for smoke to clear by (Thursday) afternoon, and with that lower level of moisture,” an update says, there could be “higher temperatures, and greater fire activity.”
The fire is about 4,173 kilometres in size.
WIND THREATENS FORT SMITH
The wind gusts on Friday are expected to impact crews in the Fort Smith area trying to hold off a fire.
Thick smoke in the area is also helping crews there.
“These smoky conditions are expected to persist for two more days, however, on Friday the smoke is expected to lift and be accompanied by strong gusty winds and warm temperatures,” a Wednesday update from Alberta wildfire reads. “If these conditions develop, fire specialists expect extreme fire behaviour.”
Firefighters work to extinguish hot spots on the ground on August 28, 2023. (Alberta wildfire)
The blaze is about 3.4 kilometres from the Town of Fort Smith and 3.1 kilometres from Fort Fitzgerald, Alta.
Crews have been successful in holding back the fire for the past week but storms this weekend could threaten the gains.”The wildfire may seem quiet right now, however, it continues to smoulder and creep on the ground and at times, flares up in the trees,” an update reads. “The conditions that could cause this wildfire to significantly increase in size are still present and possible.”
CAF DEPLOYMENT BEING RE-ASSESSED
Support from the Canadian Armed Forces in the Northwest Territories is set to expire on Sept. 5 “pending further re-assessment,” a military spokesperson says.
The military approved a Request for Assistance extension on Aug. 25 that would see personnel stay on the ground until Sept. 5. However, anything beyond that would likely depend on another extension.
As of Wednesday, about 300 Operation LENTUS members are supporting efforts to fight the wildfires in the N.W.T. The land task force is aiding the communities of Yellowknife and Hay River by building security belts, fire breaks and helping protect critical infrastructure.
RE-ENTRY PLAN PAUSED
Fires near Hay River continue to threaten the town while the blaze near Yellowknife is being held by crews.
This week, government officials laid out the plan for re-entry for Yellowknife residents, though didn’t give a timeline of when people can return home.
The city is on phase three of the plan, calling essential workers back to set up critical services. On Wednesday the Government of the Northwest Territories said in a Facebook post that the plan was paused until further notice due to high winds and dry conditions this weekend.
This comes as the N.W.T. RCMP released a statement on Wednesday warning officials that a group of 50 vehicles is planning on going to Yellowknife before the evacuation order is lifted.
“They will not stop at checkpoints,” Cpl. Matt Halstead of the N.W.T. RCMP wrote.