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Crews prioritize fire burning 30km outside Yellowknife

The N.W.T. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is assigning as many resources as possible to "Fire 85," the priority fire in the territory at the moment.

100 people battling the fire northwest of the city, the priority fire in the territory

About 100 people are fighting this fire northwest of Yellowknife. It started July 16 and re-ignited about 10 days ago. The fire now covers about 10,000 hectares. (Submitted by Glen Abernethy )

Fire officials say they should be able to make some headway on the fire burning 30 kilometres outside of Yellowknife. 

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is assigning as many resources as possible to that fire. Called "Fire ZF-85," it's the priority fire in the territory at the moment.

Smoke from that fire was the cause of the voluntary evacuation order that was issued for people living along the highway just out of town. Officials were worried that with heavy winds, fire breaks could be tested. The order was lifted Thursday afternoon. 

Jack Bird, assistant deputy minister of operations, says Mother Nature is helping the 100 people working that fire.

"We got some precipitation that we did not expect. We got less winds. And we also have higher relative humidity values that will assisting to keep the flames down on that fire. The colder temperatures it makes it easier to work with," he says.

He says crews should have a two to three day window to make some good headway on it. But he warns the worst of this fire season isn't over yet.

Bird says the fire season normally starts to wind down by mid-August, but this year it could go much longer. The long-term forecast shows more hot and dry weather on the way.

More than 300 fires have been reported in the Northwest Territories since the fire season started on May 25. Now the crews that have been fighting them are starting to feel the effects of this hot and difficult season.

Bird says they are at a point now where they are going to have to start re-certifying people so they can join the fire crews.

Contracts for many of the employees hired from the territory expire August 10. Bird says a number of them are too worn out to extend their contracts.

"It's been a long hard summer. Some of these people are very tired and they get to a point when they've had enough. It's hot, dirty work. They're tired. And we'll be training other resources to replace them."

Bird says the re-certification could begin as early as next week in various communities in the territory.

Meanwhile, evacuees from Jean Marie River have returned to their community. Environment and Natural Resources says the fires there are not a threat. 

Chief Stan Sanguez says officials told him it was safe for people to return late Wednesday night. Dozens of people left the community Tuesday night after smoke and forest fires got too close.

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