N.W.T. Fires: Kakisa survives, Highway #3 re-opens

The worst is over for the community of Kakisa, but fire officials in the N.W.T. are still dealing with over 100 active fires across the territory. ‘We’re picking up 10 to 15 new fires a day,’ says a fire official. ‘No matter which side of the lake you go, there’s fires we’re dealing with.’

'The community is still there. It’s just a matter of cleaning it up now'

Fire crews tackle a forest fire near the Taltson hydroelectric dam near Fort Smith, N.W.T. The fire came close to transmission lines, forcing several communities south of Great Slave Lake to turn to backup diesel-powered generators. It's one of the worst forest fire seasons in the territory in 20 years. (NTPC)

Fire officials say the worst is over for Kakisa, the N.W.T. community south of Great Slave Lake that was evacuated a week ago.  

“The community is still there. It’s just a matter of cleaning it up now,” says Mike Gravel, manager of Forest Management Services with the N.W.T.’s environment department.  

The fire reached the town on Wednesday night, burning around it on two sides and causing a lot of damage along the east side of the town’s access road.

“A big wall of flames just changed direction suddenly,” said Kakisa Chief Lloyd Chicot. “The young crews there managed to put out the flames that were slowly creeping towards the houses.”

The community’s residents, about 50 in all, were forced to flee a week ago and fire crews were on the scene to protect the town’s infrastructure.

“Fortunately we did a lot of preparation work with sprinklers and stuff in case of the worst case scenario and unfortunately, that worst case scenario happened,” says Gravel.

He says crews are still working to bring the northern section of the fire under control so it doesn’t pose a threat to the highway or Kakisa again.

Evacuees from the fire should get an update within a few days.

Lady Evelyn Falls park and campground has been closed due to the fire. Gravel says the park hasn’t been damaged.

Highway 3 re-opened

A fire also made a run towards Highway #3. That forced the department of highways to close the highway around kilometre 140, north of Fort Providence on Tuesday, cutting off Yellowknife’s main artery to the rest of Canada.

Gravel says the fire didn’t cross the road, but smoky conditions made driving unsafe.

The transportation department re-opened the highway around 9 p.m. last night, warning drivers to proceed with caution as the highway may be closed again with little notice.

Gravel says the situation today will depend on smoke conditions.

10 to 15 new fires a day

Meanwhile the department is dealing with over 100 active fires in what they’re calling one of the territory’s worst fire seasons.

Gravel says he hasn't seen it this bad in about 20 years. 

“We’re picking up 10 to 15 new fires a day,” Gravel says. “No matter which side of the lake you go, there’s fires we’re dealing with.”

Most are caused by lightning striking dry forest in year three of a drought.

One serious fire is still burning near the Taltson hydroelectric plant near Fort Smith. The plant was shut down for three days earlier this week when the fire threatened transmission lines, forcing south Slave communities to turn on backup diesel-powered generators.

“Things are going well there,” Gravel says.

Crews are also tackling a fire near the Fort Liard and Fort Simpson highway junction and keeping an eye out for big fires east of Yellowknife, which are not a threat to the city, but could affect some of the many cabins in the area.

“We’ve been busy working with cabin owners to protect cabins,” Gravel says.

More fires are burning north of Whati.

Gravel says the operations are starting to wear down the territory’s 100 Type 3 firefighters.

“We’ve been going at it here for several weeks. We’re getting stretched, but people also get tired.”

Crews are also in the territory from Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. More firefighters are expected to arrive from Alaska today.

Internet services OK for now

Northwestel issued a warning yesterday that the fire between Fort Providence and Behchoko was threatening to disrupt Internet and cellular service to Yellowknife.

The company says its crews have prepared redundancy plans to reduce the impact of a fire-related cut. It says it has crews on standby to respond to a cut once it's safe to do so.