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High winds expected to push fire closer to Fort Smith, N.W.T., as evacuation continues

About 70 per cent of Fort Smith, N.W.T., residents have left the community after an evacuation order was issued on Saturday. 

The order was issued for the town and for Smith’s Landing First Nation as a wildfire in Wood Buffalo National Park threatens Highway 5. 

Adam McNab, the director of protective services for the Town of Fort Smith, said that having 70 per cent of the community leave in the first day is pretty high, but they hope to get more people out on Sunday.

He said although they can’t force people from their homes, the order is as “mandatory as they can make it.” 

 

When fires threaten highways, they’re usually quick events, McNab said. 

“The fire burns and then once it burns across, crews can get in and air quality starts to improve,” he said. 

But in this case, the fire is burning along the highway, not across it, he added. 

Henry Bueckert drove the evacuation bus from Fort Smith to Hay River over the weekend. 

A smiling man stands in front of a bus.
Henry Bueckert drove a bus of evacuees from Fort Smith to Hay River on Saturday and will be doing the same on Sunday. (Julie Beaver/CBC)

He started his day at 2 a.m. Saturday and expected to work until midnight, but said he had no issue doing so. 

“There’s a lot of super nice people, under a lot of pressure, they’re still smiling.” 

Bueckert said Saturday evening that he planned to get some sleep in Hay River before returning to Fort Smith on Sunday to deliver more evacuees. 

Jane Park, Parks Canada Incident Commander, said the evacuation order came as they expect difficult conditions Sunday due to high winds. 

Park said the fire remains over 20 kilometres away from the community, but it could move as much as eight kilometres during the day and continue spreading through to midnight. 

“It’s 20-30 kilometres away at the moment, but the reason we’re doing these preemptive evacuations is that things can change very quickly and we don’t want the public to be evacuating during that type of event,” she said. 

A sign sits on a street on a sunny day.
An evacuation sign in Fort Smith, N.W.T. Firefighters were going door-to-door on Saturday to inform people of the order. (Carla Ulrich/CBC)

Fires near Yellowknife, Ingraham Trail

An evacuation alert was issued for several areas north of the Ingraham Trail near Yellowknife. 

Mike Westwick, an N.W.T. Fire information officer, said Sunday morning the fire has reached the south shore of Island Lake and west shore of Duncan Lake. But he said structure protection has been successful and there have been no new losses. 

Westwick said the evacuation alert for the North Prosperous, North Prelude Lake and River Lake was issued because they expect to see the fire grow in the coming days. 

“We’re going to see significant fire activity, significant smoke in the area,” he said. 

The evacuation alert told people in the area to be prepared to leave by Aug. 14 at 8 a.m., this comes as the wind direction is expected to push the flames toward those areas. He said there are both cabins and homes where people live year-round in the area. 

Westwick said people in the area should also fire smart their property, which includes cleaning roofs of any needles, cleaning out gutters and clearing brush within 10 metres of the structure, as well as ensuring sprinkler systems work. 

In Dettah, a fire is burning 29 kms to the southeast, but the wind is expected to push it away from Dettah. Additionally Westwick said the community and the territorial government have been working together on protective measures. 

“The threat level hasn’t changed with Dettah, the community has been doing some really great work getting sprinklers and the likes set up,” he said. 

Westwick said Yellowknife and Ndilǫ aren’t under threat, from the wildfire burning between Yellowknife and Behchokǫ.

He said work has been done to protect those communities, but winds could push the fire in their direction. 

Kakisa remains on an evacuation alert as a wildfire burns 16 kilometres outside of town and 12 kilometres from Highway 1. The alert means residents need to be prepared to leave within a short period of time. 

The N.W.T. department of Infrastructure issued a notice that the fire could disrupt the highway between Kakisa and Enterprise, around kilometre 100 and 155. 

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