First NWT wildfires of 2023 reported outside Fort Smith

A GNWT image of territorial wildfire crew members
A GNWT image of territorial wildfire crew members.

The Northwest Territories’ first two wildfires of the 2023 summer season have been reported outside the town of Fort Smith.

Residents of Fort Smith reported a fire west of the town, just past Bell Rock, which the NWT’s Department of Environment and Climate Change believes may have been caused by an escaped burn pile.

“While smoke and fire will be visible from town and along the highway, the community of Fort Smith is not under any threat,” the department stated by email just after 7pm on Friday.

That fire, SS002-23, is now 22 hectares in size and considered out of control. Two crews are assigned to it, with help from an aircraft and a bulldozer.



The department said winds had pushed the fire toward the river.

“No highway disruptions reported yet, but that can change fast,” an ECC spokesperson said, referring residents to the GNWT’s highway conditions webpage.

In an earlier tweet, the department said the first fire was a holdover fire, meaning one that has remained active under snow.

Those fires, which can last through the winter, are sometimes colloquially referred to as “zombie fires,” even if some scientists would rather they weren’t.



This fire, which is about 30 km northeast of Fort Smith, bears the designation SS001-23 as the first South Slave wildfire of the year.

It is about one hectare in size and crews are responding to it, the department stated, adding: “No threats to communities, cabins, infrastructure.”

The NWT government said earlier this week that hot, dry conditions are expected to create “extreme” wildfire conditions in parts of the territory this spring and summer.

That forecast comes on the heels of unusually hot early spring weather in parts of the territory. On Wednesday, Hay River recorded a high of 31C – four times hotter than the average temperature for this time of year and hotter than cities in Texas that day.