Sambaa K'e lake is seen on the first weekend of June 2023 as efforts continue to fight a wildfire to the south. Photo: Submitted
A huge wildfire threatening Sambaa K’e is now just 10 kilometres from the community, but brief rain on Monday allowed reinforcements – delayed for days by heavy smoke – to reach the front line.
The giant fire, spanning the NWT-BC border, is now estimated to have burned more than 200,000 hectares. One home in Sambaa K’e has been lost as a result of “ignition operations” (controlled burns designed to remove fuel) that went awry.
About eight millimetres of rain fell overnight in Sambaa K’e, though it’s not clear how much rain fell to the south, on the fire itself.
“Any relief is expected to be short-lived,” the NWT’s wildfire agency stated online on Monday afternoon.
“However, this has allowed aircraft to fly today. They have spent the morning moving people and equipment to the fire.
“They will also aim to assess the fire from above, to inform operations going forward, and begin to access structures between the fire and the community to protect them.
“When fire activity picks up and progression towards the community continues, it is expected visibility will once again become a problem. We are making the most of this opening.”
Following concerns expressed over the weekend about the number of firefighters assigned to Sambaa K’e, Monday’s break in the smoke allowed the number of personnel to increase to 48 with the arrival of four extra crews.
Even with extra help and some rain, the NWT government expects the fire to “reach Sambaa K’e in the coming days.”
At that point, the question will be whether defences against the fire – like sprinklers – hold out and protect homes and infrastructure.
Air tankers have been targeting areas just outside Sambaa K’e to buy time for crews to complete more of that protective work, the GNWT stated.
“Structure protection, including setting up sprinklers to discourage ignition should fire reach the community, is complete on all critical infrastructure and buildings on the periphery of Sambaa K’e, along with structures at Island Lake,” the territory’s afternoon statement read.
“A structure protection plan has been developed for all structures in the fire area – which will be implemented as visibility allows people to get to the right places.”