KFN, Hay River wildfire in holding pattern as crews continue to fight the flames

·3 min read
Firefighters walk down a dozer line near Hay River and the Kátł'odeeche First Nation on Friday evening.  (NWT Fire - image credit)
Firefighters walk down a dozer line near Hay River and the Kátł'odeeche First Nation on Friday evening. (NWT Fire - image credit)

A wildfire raging near the Kátł'odeeche First Nation reserve and Hay River remains "out of control" as of Saturday morning, according to the N.W.T.'s fire information officer.

Mike Westwick told the CBC's Jared Monkman on The Weekender that the fire has grown to about 2,927 hectares.

On a somewhat positive note, he added that crews fighting the blaze had a slightly better day on Friday than anticipated, thanks to some "very slight, unexpected rain and lower consistent winds than expected."

"It was still an active fire day … but these changes did provide a solid opportunity for us to get some work done," Westwick said.

Air tankers and helicopters were able to slow the growth of fire toward Highway 5 on Friday evening, Westwick said, keeping the road open and in-tact.

NWT Fire
NWT Fire

Still, he continued, there's a tough slog ahead for crews.

Wind is expected to blow southeast on Saturday, which could push the fire toward Hay River and Kátł'odeeche (though wind is expected to be less active than Friday), and there is limited rain in the forecast over the next few days.

Smoke has also blanketed the area, making for poor visibility and air quality.

In an update posted on it's Facebook page around 10:30 a.m. Saturday, the Town of Hay River stated there had been "moderate growth" around the eastern and southern edges of the the burn area, but that crews had "good success" with managing the wildfire the day before.

They were able to bulldoze a wider access road into the reserve, offering Hay River better protection from the spread of flames, and planned to continue with that work throughout the weekend.

The town also said it was also expecting the arrival of a sprinkler system from Parks Canada on Saturday that would be deployed in areas of the community most vulnerable to a change in fire conditions.

Meanwhile, the territorial government announced in a Facebook post of its own around 1:30 p.m. that crews were planning to do an "ignition operation" around the Sandy Creek Lodge and along the southeast flank of the fire. This involves intentionally setting fires to remove dead vegetation and stop the blaze from growing.

Pleas for N.W.T. residents to be 'fire smart' over long weekend

When asked what advice he had for residents who might be out camping over the long weekend, Westwick urged people to use caution.


That includes making sure to properly put out any campfires, he said, and being aware of spark risks from ATVs or trailers.

The N.W.T. government has instituted fire bans for the Fred Henne and Yellowknife River  territorial parks near Yellowknife, the Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park near Fort Smith, and the MacKinnon Territorial Park in Norman Wells.

The territory says under its fire bans, camp stoves, enclosed barbecues and propane-fuelled cooking devices are allowed, but they must be used in regulation fire pits and they can't emit a flame more than 0.5 metres in either diameter or height.

The City of Yellowknife and Town of Fort Smith have issued their own fire bans within their respective municipal bounds.

Evacuations ongoing

Evacuation orders for both communities remain in place. As it stands, there is no timeline for when evacuees will be able to safely return home.

Kátł'odeeche chief April Martel told BC North's Trail's End on Friday afternoon that people from Hay River may be able to return home in a week and a half, but it could be much longer — weeks, and perhaps up to a couple months — for people from Kátł'odeeche.

The Town of Hay River said Friday it's critical that those who are still in Hay River leave, and ended up transporting six residents from the community to Yellowknife by shuttle that afternoon.

Another shuttle is scheduled for noon on Saturday.

The town said it would issue its next official update at 5:00 p.m., or as the situation changes.