North

Drivers beware: No gas for 600 km south of Hay River due to wildfire

The N.W.T.'s infrastructure department is warning drivers not to travel through northern Alberta unless they are able to carry enough fuel to carry them 600 kilometres.

An out-of-control wildfire in Northern Alberta has caused evacuations, road closures, power outages

Part of a crucial highway into the Northwest Territories is closed as a wildfire rages near the town of High Level in northern Alberta. (Deb Stecyk)

As a wildfire continues to rage in northern Alberta, the Northwest Territories government is warning drivers heading south of Hay River, N.W.T., toward Alberta to bring enough fuel for more than 600 kilometres of travel.

Greg Whitlock, a regional superintendent with the Department of Infrastructure, said Tuesday morning that there is currently no reliable place to fill up on gas between Hay River and Red Earth Creek, Alta., a hamlet off Highway 88, about 630 kilometres south of Hay River. 

As of late Tuesday afternoon, two small gas stations — The Bushe Store just east of High Level and Winks Convenience and Gas in Fort Vermilion, Alta. — say they are operating on backup generators and have gas.

On Monday, the out-of-control wildfire forced the evacuation of about 4,000 people in Northern Alberta, affecting the town of High Level and about 750 people living on the Bushe River Reserve of the Dene Tha First Nation. Evacuees may not be able to return home for as long as five days.

As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, the fire was still rated as out of control — the highest level of danger possible — and covered an estimated 79,800 hectares, according to Alberta Wildfire.

Highway closures

Highway 35 is closed between five and 30 kilometres south of High Level, Alberta government spokesperson Jill Wheeler-Bryks said in an email.

Drivers travelling south from the Northwest Territories through northern Alberta can take Highway 58 — which transects Highway 35 just north of High Level — east to Highway 88, which runs south through Fort Vermilion to Red Earth Creek, Alta.

Highway 58 is closed west of High Level to the Chinchaga River Bridge.

This map shows the intersection of Highways 35 and 58 just north of High Level, Alta. The Red line indicates the parts of Highways 35 and 58 that are closed. The yellow line shows the part of Highway 58 that is open. (Courtesy of the N.W.T. Department of Infrastructure)

People driving north on Highway 35 toward High Level are being rerouted to Highway 697, where they can take the La Crete Ferry across Peace River and travel onward to Highway 88 and north to Highway 58.

The latest Alberta road conditions are available at 511 Alberta, and its social media feeds.

Highway 35 is one of just two highways in and out of the N.W.T. and a crucial artery to the territory's South Slave region. It remains unclear when the road will reopen.

Whitlock said power is out in areas affected by the fire, so drivers shouldn't count on businesses being open between Hay River and Red Earth Creek. This means there may be nowhere to buy food and water or use the bathroom between the two communities.

He added that there is no cell phone service for about 300 kilometres between Fort Vermillion and Red Earth Creek.

Movement of goods not affected

The wildfire has not affected the transportation of goods, such as gasoline and groceries, to the N.W.T., said Whitlock.

"Most transport truckers use Highway 88 just because it's a preferred route by transportation companies hauling freight out of Edmonton," he said.

"There will be no impact to the Northwest Territories for as far as the movement of goods and products."

With the region's dry conditions, Whitlock cautions travellers to take extra care right now.

"Something as careless as flicking cigarette butts out the window while you're driving down the highway can have considerable impact," he said. "People should be very aware and be careful."

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