N.W.T., Yellowknife upping protection as city is surrounded by wildfires

Crews went ahead with controlled burns along N.W.T. Highway 3 on Monday. (N.W.T. Fire)

‘I just really want to stress that these are precautionary measures,’ says city manager

While winds blowing northwest have slowed the threat of the wildfire burning between Behchokǫ, N.W.T.,̀ and Yellowknife, they’ve also pushed a separate fire closer to Dettah.

Over the weekend, the City of Yellowknife began clearing fire breaks to the west.

Sheila Bassi-Kellett, the city’s manager, said its plan is to set up primary, secondary and tertiary breaks and install sprinklers in areas at risk.

“I just really want to stress that these are precautionary measures we’re taking as a safeguard because it is so dry out there and we really want to make sure that we do everything we can,” she said.

Crews are focused on the areas around the sewage lagoon, Deh Cho Boulevard, behind the Engle industrial district and the trail west of the sandpits.

“We know that our vulnerability does come from the west and southwest part of our community when it comes to wildfire,” said Bassi-Kellet, referring to the city’s fire protection plan.

“What we’re seeing now is that wind patterns are a little different. We’re getting more westerly winds this year. That’s been a reality for us and that raised the potential for threat.”

Equipment expected from Alberta 

The city is using some of its own sprinklers from the fire and parks department. It’s also expecting trailers with 100 sprinklers each to arrive from Alberta on Tuesday.

Bassi-Kellett said the city wants to “ramp up actions” within city limits that will complement and reinforce work that N.W.T. government wildfire fighters are doing.

On Monday, N.W.T. Fire proceeded with controlled burns to try and control the fire along Highway 3.

Mike Westwick, fire information officer, said the burns are about 60 per cent complete and successful so far.

The goal, he said, was to “influence the fuels that are in front of [the fire] now and ignition operation was necessary in order to burn off vegetation in the fire’s way.”

Those ignition operations closed Highway 3 between Behchokǫ̀ and Yellowknife for nearly eight hours on Monday.

On Tuesday, Westwick said crews would continue to assess whether conditions allowed for that burning to continue.

In addition to the large fire along the highway, there’s a fire burning about 19 kilometres north of the Ingraham Trail.

Westwick said the fire grew to the south over the weekend and crews were in touch with property owners in the area to take precautions.

The territory’s fire update webpage states property owners on the east shore of Prosperous Lake and north shore of Prelude Lake should set up sprinklers and have an evacuation plan in place.

Protection around Dettah

Much of the smoke that smothered the city for part of the weekend came from a fire burning about 40 kilometres southeast of Dettah.

“With current conditions, the fire is projected to grow to the northwest,” reads the territory’s fire webpage.

While there is no immediate risk to the community, officials say they’re working on protection plans.

“Aircraft may be seen doing drops in the area as visibility allows.”

As of Monday night, there were 219 active wildfire in the N.W.T. and more than two million hectares burned.

-Written by Francis Tessier-Burns with files from Jared Monkman

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Nunavik health board issues smoke alert for two communities, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Smoke from Canadian wildfires forecast to reach Norway, The Associated Press

Russia: New NOAA report finds vast Siberian wildfires linked to Arctic warming, The Associated Press

United States: Wildfires in Anchorage? Climate change sparks disaster fears, The Associated Press

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