Rush to protect NWT research station from approaching wildfire

Last modified: September 29, 2022 at 10:21am


A wildfire is edging closer to the Scotty Creek Research Station, 50 km south of Fort Simpson. Scotty Creek team members and firefighters are being flown to the area to build defences.

The fire, dubbed FS-012 by the NWT government, has been smoldering since the summer according to Bill Quinton, Scotty Creek’s director. Fire season is usually done by the end of September but over the past week or so, he said, the fire has “really picked up.”

On Friday, a colleague alerted Quinton to thick smoke in the area and reported the fire to be six kilometres from the research station. By Sunday, the fire was three kilometres away.

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Now, on Wednesday evening, it’s even closer – about two kilometres away – and there is very little rain in the forecast, Quinton said.

Smoke in the area was so heavy that researchers supposed to fly out of Scotty Creek on Sunday decided to leave a day early over concerns that the pilot wouldn’t be able to land, he added.

According to Quinton, some wildfire fighters who had been laid off for the season were called back to work on protective barriers around the facility. Three firefighters were being flown into the area on Wednesday to cut a fire break on the west side of the research station and set up sprinklers to soak the cleared area.

However, Quinton said, the fire has already jumped over the Birch River on its way to the site. That’s “not a small river,” he observed.

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Mike Westwick, an NWT government wildfire information officer, said by email that the work is expected to be complete on Thursday.

A research technician and an Indigenous Guardian are being flown in from Fort Simpson to offer support, with two others on the way.

“They’ll be there to help run the camp and provide whatever assistance they can,” Quinton said.

A view of the fire from the air
A view of the fire from the air. Mason Dominico/Scotty Creek Research Station

If the fire progresses, he warned, it risks burning down millions of dollars in equipment, infrastructure and research investments.

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Scotty Creek, which has been in place since the 1990s, is one of the few long-term research stations in the North. Its work is led in part by the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation.

“I don’t know how you put a price tag on a data archive a quarter of a century old,” Quinton said, though he expressed gratitude that people were pulling together to protect the area.

“People want a good outcome here,” he said.


This article is produced under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0 licence through the Wilfrid Laurier University Climate Change Journalism Fellowship.