Surprise showers and lower winds made Friday afternoon’s battle against the Hay River-KFN wildfire slightly easier than anticipated, the NWT government says.
However, that small victory – “very slight, unexpected rain and lower consistent winds than expected” – was accompanied by a warning that there are “more tough days ahead.”
The good news continued later on Friday evening. By 8:50pm, the territory’s wildfire agency said crews had come through the early evening “peak burn period” with less fire growth than might have been expected.
There remains no new damage to Hay River or the Kátł’odeeche First Nation. The fire also did not reach Highway 5, south of the First Nation, with no significant growth in that direction.
The NWT’s Department of Infrastructure said on Twitter: “Highway 5 remains open but smokey conditions are anticipated to increase on this highway today. Travellers should be prepared for delays or sudden road closures.”
Anyone near the Highway 5 turn-off for the First Nation should “stay on alert,” the territory stated.
Highway 5 is the only road connecting the communities of Fort Smith and Fort Resolution to the wider highway network.
Each of those communities is hundreds of kilometres from the fire, but they face extreme fire danger of their own as weather in the NWT remains extraordinarily warm and dry.
The Town of Fort Smith implemented a fire ban on Friday afternoon.
Reinforcements due Saturday
Wildfire crews started the day fearing that gusts of up to 60 km/h could provide some of the most ferocious conditions yet for workers tackling the fire, sparking crown fires in the tops of trees that produce thick, black smoke.
Those gusts did not quite materialize but, while the rain was a bonus, there remains little relief in the forecast ahead, which is almost uniformly sunny and warm for the next week.
Given the conditions and the outlook, the Town of Hay River earlier called for anyone remaining in the community to leave on two buses provided to get them to safety.
The wildfire has now burned almost 3,000 hectares. The focus of crews’ work remains protecting structures and trying to keep the fire from the highway.
Extra personnel from the south are due to arrive on Saturday, bringing with them “big water systems that can more quickly protect structures,” Department of Environment and Climate Change spokesperson Mike Westwick said.
Also on Friday, the Union of Northern Workers said it was contributing $30,000 to the United Way NWT fund for evacuees, plus a further $30,000 from the related Public Service Alliance of Canada social justice fund.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have poured in over the past week, including a territorial government donation matching program worth up to an extra $150,000 and two donations of $25,000 from the Yukon and Nunavut governments respectively.