No immediate end in sight as wildfire near Hay River, KFN keeps burning

A dozer defence line is visible built to protect the Old Village in the Kátł'odeeche First Nation in this photo taken on Saturday, May 20. The wildfire, which started Sunday, has grown to about 3,200 hectares. (NWT Fire - image credit)
A dozer defence line is visible built to protect the Old Village in the Kátł'odeeche First Nation in this photo taken on Saturday, May 20. The wildfire, which started Sunday, has grown to about 3,200 hectares. (NWT Fire - image credit)

It's been one week since both the Kátł'odeeche First Nation reserve and Hay River were evacuated due to a growing wildfire nearby — and there's still no end in sight to the danger.

Speaking to the CBC's Jared Monkman on The Weekender this Sunday, N.W.T. fire information officer Mike Westwick said it's "very premature" to offer any timeline for when the fire could be declared under control.

That leaves close to 4,000 people under the evacuation order in limbo.

"I know that's very difficult for people to hear, but these are unprecedented conditions … that we're seeing at this time of May," he said. "I mean, we've got a team approaching 150 people who are working tirelessly every single day on this. And you know what? They're making progress."

The fire stood around 3,000 hectares, Westwick said Saturday morning. By noon, N.W.T. Fire had published a revised estimate of 3,200 hectares.

The territorial government said on Facebook that firefighting crews have been able to strengthen dozer lines, widen the road through the reserve, and remove fuel around Highway 5 near the Kátł'odeh Bridge. They're expected to continue this work, alongside efforts to protect structures in KFN, throughout the rest of the weekend.

NWT Fire
NWT Fire

An ignition operation around the Sandy Creek Lodge on Saturday was also successful, though a planned burn down the southeast flank of the fire toward Highway 5 was abandoned as "severe conditions" could have impacted containment.

There are still tough days ahead, Westwick warned. More hot and dry weather is in the forecast, and shifting wind conditions are making it harder to predict the direction of the blaze.

"We've got a long way toward [having it] under control, and we're just not there yet," he said.

Hay River renews state of emergency

Meanwhile, the Town of Hay River has extended its local state of emergency — first declared on May 14 — for another seven days.

The town clarified in a Facebook post that the renewal was "simply a procedural activity," and "not an indication of [a] reopening timeline."

"Any timelines for evacuation planning will be communicated through the daily update," the post read.

Over in Kátł'odeeche, an incident response team led by chief April Martel and incident commander Alex Gresl has reportedly formed to develop housing plans for community members, manage funding and incoming donations, and keep First Nation members informed about what's happening, among other things.

"KFN is strong and we are all in this together," the team said in an update. "We will rebuild our community."