Air quality warning issued for Fort Good Hope as nearby fire rages

Environment Canada has issued an air quality warning for Fort Good Hope, N.W.T. as locals continue to work to firesmart the community as a nearby wildfire grows larger.

'It's smoky outside, alright. But there's a little bit of wind,' elder said on Tuesday

Smoke hangs in the air over Fort Good Hope. A 13,000 hectare fire burning close to the community has led to Environment Canada issuing an air quality warning. (submitted by Norman Pierrot)

Environment Canada has issued an air quality warning for Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., as locals continue to work to firesmart the community while a nearby wildfire grows larger.

By Tuesday afternoon, the wildfire had increased in size to 13,200 hectares, and was burning about 22 kilometres from the community. The fire began on July 3 after a lightning strike, prompting a state of emergency to be issued for Fort Good Hope on Saturday.

Crews work to construct a fire break on Fort Good Hope's winter road, east of the community. (submitted by John Louison)
In a news release, Fort Good Hope band manager Wilbert Cook said the fire was not an immediate threat to the community, and smoke conditions are continuing to be monitored.

"Right now, it's not that bad," said John Cotchilly, an elder in the community. "The other night, the smoke came down pretty close... But now, it's not that bad. It's smoky outside, alright. But there's a little bit of wind."

Fire crews and residents are working to construct a burnout operation on the community's winter road, approximately 10 kilometres east of the community. In the community, resources have been focused on firesmarting property, and a firesmarting workshop is scheduled to take place Tuesday evening.

'We know we're well taken care of'

Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory's deputy chief public health officer, said that although an evacuation has not been ordered, residents should still take precautions due to the amount of smoke in the air.
In town, firefighters are working to firesmart the community by setting up sprinklers, like this one near the town's health centre. (submitted by John Louison)

The territory uses sustained smoke visibility measurements in order to determine if smoke conditions are poor enough for an evacuation, said Kandola. For the past several days, visibility has remained around four kilometres. If it drops to two kilometres for a sustained period, she said, an evacuation of the community's vulnerable residents would be considered.

Joe Grandjambe didn't wait for the order to be issued, moving his daughter and two-and-a-half year old grandaughter to Norman Wells, saying he wants to make sure his granddaughter "gets good quality air.

"The quality of air here is really terrible," he said. "That's my first responsibility, is to make sure my kids and my grandchildren are taken care of."

Kandola recommended that the community's vulnerable residents — young children, elders, people with respiratory issues, and pregnant women — reduce their exposure as much as possible, staying indoors with windows and doors closed.
Smoke settles in around the community of Fort Good Hope as fire crews set up sprinklers on the edge of town. (submitted by John Louison)

Kandola also recommended that residents avoid smoking, especially indoors; turn on air filters in their homes if they have them; not use wood stoves, gas stoves, or candles, in order to keep air quality as high as possible in their homes; and stay hydrated.

"We are monitoring quite closely," she said. "At this point, the visibility is still good enough to undertake [those measures]."

Despite assurances that the community is not in immediate danger, Grandjambe said he has his boat packed up and is ready to leave and join his daughter and grandaughter at a moment's notice. However, he praised the community's leadership for keeping residents informed of the changing conditions.

"I think our leadership, our chief and council, are doing a good job of organizing everybody and letting people know," he said. "I really appreciate that.

"We know we're well taken care of. So we'll just wait it out, I guess."

With files from Jackie Mckay