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Evacuation underway in Kátł'odeeche First Nation as nearby wildfire grows

A fire is burning less than two kilometres away from Kátł'odeeche First Nation. (Submitted by Aaron Tambour - image credit)
A fire is burning less than two kilometres away from Kátł'odeeche First Nation. (Submitted by Aaron Tambour - image credit)

Kátł'odeeche First Nation has issued an evacuation notice for residents as a fire by the Sandy Creek Lodge, east of the community, continues to grow.

In an update posted to Facebook just after 4 p.m. Sunday, Chief April Martel directed residents to go to the evacuation centre at Hay River's arena.

She said residents should expect a text message about the evacuation and that a siren will turn on.

She said there will be a roadblock once everyone is out, so no one can enter the community.

"I want to say thank you to everyone, and please, stay safe," Martel said.

Earlier Sunday afternoon, Martel asked residents to pack bags and medication, check on their friends and gas up their vehicles.

Loren McGinnis/CBC
Loren McGinnis/CBC

NWT Alert issued a critical alert for the community, which is near Hay River.

In a statement posted to its Facebook page, the Town of Hay River said there is no risk to them at this time.

In an email, NWT Fire said a fire started near Portage Beach and grew from one hectare to 15 at last assessment. It is within two kilometres of the reserve.

Mike Westwick, a wildfire information officer with NWT Fire, said that a strong west wind is currently pushing the fire and smoke away from Kátł'odeeche First Nation — but that's expected to change later today.

He said the winds are contributing to "severe fire behaviour."

"It is our expectation that later in the day ... northern and easterly winds will direct the fire and smoke toward the community, which is why this fire is a significant concern," he said in an interview with CBC News.

"We urge folks to listen to officials on the ground [like] Chief Martel, who are giving directions on what to do to keep folks safe there, and follow all directions from people on site as well, as crews are going to be working hard in the area to address this fire and keep the community safe."

Westwick said there are multiple fire crews tackling the fire, as well as aircraft, helicopters and bulldozers working to build a line around it to limit its spread. Air tankers are on their way after some delays due to mechanical issues.

'A wake-up call'

Westwick said the fire, which is suspected to be person-caused, should be a warning to everyone to take fire safety seriously.

"This should really serve as a wake-up call — a sobering wake-up call to folks that we're facing a really tough season this year," he said.

"We've had multiple person-caused fires so far this year. It's at a bit of a rate that's pretty surprising, honestly."

Westwick said person-caused fires are usually the most dangerous — even more dangerous than lightning-caused fires, because they usually start closer to communities, homes and valuables.

"We're calling on folks, that they really need to do their part. We really don't want to see more situations like this," he said

The fire danger in the southern part of the territory has been high to extreme all weekend. The Sahtu and Beaufort Delta regions further north have a lower fire danger forecast, but Westwick said it's starting to creep in that direction.