POLITICS

Corridor south of Hay River, N.W.T., put on evacuation alert over wildfires

06/29/2015 09:01 EDT | Updated 06/29/2016 05:59 EDT
HAY RIVER, N.W.T. - The fire chief of Hay River, N.W.T., says residents in the corridor south of the town are being asked to prepare for an evacuation if "things go for the worse" with nearby fires in the coming days.

Chief Ross Potter told radio station CJCD on Monday that the problem area could be Paradise Valley.

He said it's hard to get a handle on which way the winds are going to be going, saying there is "some weird stuff" going on with the weather.

But Potter said the town of Hay River itself — which has a population of 3,600 — is not as much a concern, saying there is more concern about the corridor regions.

The Department of Transportation has closed Highway 5, leading south from Hay River to Fort Smith, in response to wildfires in the area.

On Monday afternoon, Richard Olsen, the territorial fire operations manager, said winds could drive wildfires nearer to Hay River in the next 48 hours.

“Two fires have grown together,” said Olsen. “The fire escaped the initial attack (from firefighters) on Saturday and has grown to in excess of 5,000 hectares in size. It’s about 10 km from the nearest town infrastructure.

“Weather-wise we are expecting that wind conditions will move the fire closer to the community. Because of this, we have made recommendations that emergency measures be put in place to prepare for the potential growth of the fire toward the community.”

Olsen said southerly winds are forecast for the next two days, which could push the fire closer to the town.

“We haven’t recommended evacuation at this time but we are concerned the fire may make a move toward the community,” he said.

In the event of an evacuation, members of the fire department will go door-to-door notifying residents.

Olsen described the conditions firefighters working south of Hay River have faced in recent days.

“In a normal situation, crews can only withstand fires that have flames going up to about the height of their eyes,” he said.

“In these cases here, they were experiencing fires with flames that would get up into the trees, undertaking what we call crowning, and moving at a greater rate than resources could slow the fire down.

“Really, the resources pretty-much proved ineffective at that point. We have to pull off, reassess and look at other options. “It’s a pretty common thing under extreme conditions.”

Meanwhile, Northwestel said a wildfire near Highway 3 is threatening telecommunications services in Yellowknife.

In a news release on Sunday, the company said technicians were standing by to assess the situation once they can safely operate in the area.

There are 129 fires burning in the Northwest Territories, which has experienced a total of 158 fires so far this season. The 20-year average is 66 fires for this time of year.

(CJCD)