People in Jean Marie River, N.W.T., began a voluntary evacuation Tuesday as a forest fire raged right up to the opposite bank of the Mackenzie River and another threatened the community's road.

Chief Stan Sanguez.says residents grew concerned a windblown spark could ignite a fire in the community as smoke grew thick, and that the fire near the road would threaten their ability to drive out. 

"People were just freaking out," says Chief Stan Sanguez.

Sanguez says he called on the GNWT and the RCMP to start moving people out Tuesday afternoon.

The community has a population of about 70. More than 50 people fled the community and are now in Fort Simpson. Sanguez says a few chose to stay behind.

Today the winds have changed, blowing the fire away from the community. Sanguez says five firefighters are on standby with water pumps in case a spark blows in. 

"Right now the fire is smouldering right near the riverbank, the worst is over," he says. 

The area got a bit of rain yesterday but it wasn't enough. Lightning strikes started two new fires in the Dehcho and today there are 21 fires burning in the region.

Highway 3 convoys Wednesday 

In the North Slave region, highway crews near Fort Providence and Behchoko began running convoys for trucks and other vehicles along Highway 3 Wednesday but the road closed again at 2 p.m. 

Officials have been saying this is the worst fire season they've seen in decades. So far, fires have scorched more than 10,000 kilometres square, which is less than one per cent of the territory's land mass but almost twice the area of Prince Edward Island. 

This season, 284 fires have burned. Last year there were 219. In 1998, one of the worst seasons ever, there were 399 fires reported.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources says more than 400 fire personnel are spread out across the territory fighting the blazes. Half of these are are from other provinces. They work up to 12 hours a day for two weeks straight.

The Minister of ENR says so far the territory has spent $27 million battling the blazes. 

On average, wildfires cost the territory about $8.5 million a year, meaning the territory will spend at least $18 million more than average. ENR says the season runs until the end of September, so it's not over yet.