A sign on Highway 3 warns of overhead fibre-optic cabling. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
The NWT’s wildfire agency says the fibre line along Highway 3 is still at risk from a wildfire burning near Behchokǫ̀.
NWT Fire said fire ZF015 crossed the highway at kilometre 278 – around 30 kilometres east of the community – on Tuesday night. The fire later reached Behchokǫ̀, where it has so far destroyed three homes.
Wildfire information officer Mike Westwick said the presence of the fibre line, which is buried in some places but exposed above ground in others, is a consideration during wildfire management efforts.
“We do know that it hasn’t been compromised as yet,” he said. “It still remains a risk.”
Highway 3 reopened to traffic on Wednesday morning but strong winds and hot, dry conditions are expected to continue pushing the wildfire westward. A stretch of the highway between Behchokǫ̀ and Yellowknife was again closed on Wednesday afternoon
The territorial government said all departments are working on plans to continue delivering programs and services if the fibre line is affected and there is a prolonged disruption in services.
Shela Shapiro, the Alberta and territorial spokesperson for RBC, said the bank is monitoring the wildfire situation and are “hopeful” if there are any challenges, they’ll be resolved as quickly as possible.
There is currently only one fibre line that provides telecommunications services to Yellowknife and surrounding communities.
Det’on Cho Management and Northwestel signed an agreement in 2021 to work toward building a submarine fibre line across Great Slave Lake. That second line would provide redundancy, meaning services could continue should either line go down.
Andrew Anderson, a spokesperson for Northwestel, said Yellowknife is also connected to the internet by satellite and microwave, but the fibre line carries the vast majority of the company’s traffic. He declined to speculate on what could happen if the fibre line were to be damaged by fire.
“We are in close communications with NWT Fire and they are aware of the location of all telecommunications infrastructure in the area,” he said.
The fibre line has gone down in the past.
People in Yellowknife and surrounding communities experienced significant disruptions to home phone, internet and TV services in July and August 2019, after the RCMP said the fibre line was damaged by vandalism.
Some residents reported intermittent ability to access the internet at slow speeds, which Northwestel at the time attributed to its backup microwave radio service.
Meanwhile, Northwestel said on Wednesday that services on the Rae side of Behchokǫ̀ “have been completely disrupted” by the wildfire, including cell service.
“Services in Edzo are working normally,” the company wrote.
“We will work with wildfire authorities to restore service when it is safe to do so.”