A wildfire outside Wekweètì as it appeared just after 6pm on June 28, 2023. Photo: Pamela Lamouelle
Three wildfires developed in quick succession near Wekweètì on Wednesday, triggering a battle led by air tankers to protect the community.
At 10:30pm on Wednesday, the NWT’s wildfire agency told Cabin Radio fires ZF007, ZF008 and ZF009 were “clustered around the community.”
ZF009, on an island two kilometres from Wekweètì, was too intense to be fought on the ground and was instead being attacked from the air by tankers, a territorial wildfire information officer stated by email.
“Two tanker groups are working on the fire to limit the spread to the community, including two helicopters with another on the way tonight. Tomorrow morning sprinkler kits, gear and additional bombers will be dispatched, as well as additional crews,” the officer wrote.
ZF007 is located across Snare Lake from Wekweètì, while ZF008 is on the lake’s western tip.
Residents in the community posted photos and video showing a plume growing in the distance. Each video came with a soundtrack of the drone of aircraft working on the fire.
As of 11pm on Wednesday, preparations for an evacuation were understood to be under way. In a Facebook group for residents, Wekweètì Chief Adeline Judas-Football suggested an evacuation was likely to commence on Thursday morning as no aircraft were available on Wednesday evening.
In a brief statement posted to Facebook, the Tłı̨chǫ Government wrote: “We are monitoring the latest on the fire near Wekweètì and will share information as it becomes available.”
There is no road access to or from Wekweètì in summer, meaning any evacuation would have to take place via the airstrip some five kilometres to the east of the community.
A severe storm warning had been issued for the broader Tłı̨chǫ area, including Wekweètì, earlier on Wednesday. While that warning has since ended, dozens of lightning strikes were recorded in the area throughout the day – each the potential cause of a wildfire.
The NWT communities of Hay River, the Kátł’odeeche First Nation and Sambaa K’e have all already been forced to evacuate this summer because of wildfires.
Sambaa K’e’s residents have now been away from their homes for almost a month as efforts to contain a huge wildfire south of the community continue.