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N.W.T. highway and ferry close again, more wildfire closures could be coming

Highway 1and the N'Dulee Ferry have been closed again, according to the Northwest Territories Department of Infrastructure. The road and ferry had opened around 10 a.m. Thursday, after about 17 hours of partial closures. 

As the N.W.T. faces extreme conditions, gov't asks residents to do their part to prevent unnecessary fires

There have been 96 wildfires reported so far this season, affecting 131,380 hectares in the territory.  (Department of Environment and Natural Resources)

Highway 1 and the N'Dulee Ferry have been closed again, according to the Northwest Territories Department of Infrastructure.

The road and ferry had opened around 10 a.m. Thursday, after about 17 hours of partial closures. 

In a tweet Thursday morning, the department cautioned residents to continue to drive with care as smoky conditions persist. 

The department said highway and ferry closures may occur throughout the day "with little notice."

Six new wildfires were reported between Wednesday and Thursday, all of them in the South Slave region. 

Three of the recent fires were "out of control," according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) wildfire update page

Those fires include one blaze about 14 kilometres south of Fort Providence, one about 1 kilometre north of Highway 1, just past the 210-kilometre marker, and one fire about 36 kilometres from Kakisa, 3 kilometres east of the highway. 

ENR noted that no cabins, communities or infrastructure are currently at risk. 

Crews also responded to two new fires on Meridian Island near Fort Providence, one at the north end of the island and the other at the south. 

Mike Westwick, N.W.T. wildfire information officer, said ENR is "relatively confident" the the department has "good control" of the fire on the south of the island, and has "made significant progress" on the northern fire. 

Westwick appeared on CBC's The Trailbreaker with Loren McGinnis Thursday morning. 

ENR asks residents to do their part

All six of the recent fires are thought to have been caused by lightning. However, Westwick noted that a number of this season's wildfires have been caused by people, "which [is] always a significant problem for any wildfire service, because you're dealing with fires that are totally preventable." 

Westwick pointed to the recent fire by Vee Lake just outside Yellowknife. 

He said the department is still investigating the fire's cause, though it suspects the fire was the result of bear bangers. 

He said the crew quickly got control of the flames there, "which is really good news because there is a lot of stuff that folks value in that area," listing cabins and the Ranney Hill hiking trail as among them. 

ENR is asking anyone with information about that fire to reach out in aid of the investigation.

Smoke from a wildfire, which led to the closure of a Highway 1 between Fort Simpson and Wrigley in the N.W.T., can be seen in this shot taken in Fort Simpson on July 9, 2021. (Hannah Paulson/CBC)

Westwick acknowledged that some residents feel concerned about fires near their communities, specifically mentioning the fire about 40 kilometres from Wrigley, near kilometre-650 on the highway. 

He said there is "no reason for any alarm in the community," and that "the community is not at risk and the team is working really hard to limit the growth of that fire." 

He said the incident management team is working to protect cabins and homes in the area as well as structure protection work for the Enbridge pipeline. 

As of Thursday night, that fire had reached 11,892 hectares, the territory said. It has made its way past River Between Two Mountains due to winds that caused the fire to spread quickly overnight.

There were ground ignition operations to burn off trees, brush, grass and other fuel between the west side of the highway to the Mackenzie River to help "guide" the fire toward areas that are natural fire breaks, such as bodies of water and burned forest. There are five fire crews and a specialist ignition team fighting the fire.

There were 67 active wildfires in the territory as of Thursday evening. In total, there have been 98 wildfires, which have affected 156,849 hectares of land in the territory. 

The N.W.T. is facing extreme conditions in the coming days and resources are stretched, Westwick said.

He said ENR is calling on residents to "do everything they can to prevent from adding to the burden of wildfire crews."

After technical issues with landlines telephones on Wednesday, ENR's phone line to report smoke or a fire was back up and running on Thursday. That number is 1-877-NWT-FIRE.

Smoke alerts issued for several N.W.T. communities

Meanwhile, Environment Canada has issued wildfire smoke alerts for the following N.W.T. communities: Délı̨nę, Fort Providence, Kakisa, Fort Resolution, Norman Wells, Tulita; The North Slave region, including Wekweètì, Whatì and Behchokǫ; Fort Smith and the Salt River Reserve; Wrigley and the Yellowknife area.

The alerts say wildfire smoke is causing poor air quality and reduced visibility because of high concentrations of fine particles in the air.

The governments of Alberta and British Columbia, with support from multiple government agencies, have interactive map of the wildfire smoke forecast for North America. 

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story included a temporary phone number to report smoke and wildfires in the N.W.T. It has been updated with the preferred, normal phone number.
    Jul 07, 2022 4:21 PM CT

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