Fire crews are racing to protect Behchokǫ̀ from further wildfire damage while also beginning to work on protections for Yellowknife.
Wildfire ZF015 is between the two communities but currently much closer to Behchokǫ̀, where it has now burned five homes. The fire remains some 45 kilometres away from Yellowknife.
Even so, on Thursday, the NWT’s wildfire agency said that steps are “being taken now to build up protections to prevent [the] fire becoming a threat to Yellowknife.”
“Last night, with visibility clear at the south end of the fire, we completed air tanker drops – beginning to build retardant lines to slow or prevent growth of the fire towards Yellowknife in the long term.”
Yellowknife is not currently under threat, officials have taken care to state.
However, Yellowknife’s plan if a wildfire approaches – and how the city might be evacuated as a last resort – have been front of mind for many of the city’s residents all week.
The city published its evacuation framework on Wednesday, while Mayor Rebecca Alty has sought to stress that Yellowknife’s location and the prevailing conditions make an oncoming wildfire unlikely. If it does happen, she said, the city has planned for various eventualities but won’t make public the full range of possible plans as the variables are too numerous.
ZF015 is a far greater threat to Behchokǫ̀ right now than it is to Yellowknife, and most of the nearly 100 personnel now assigned to the fire – 76 are on the ground, 20 are soon arriving from Ontario – are focused on protecting Rae, Frank Channel and Edzo.
The fire has not yet crossed Frank Channel toward Edzo, and on Thursday crews were working to remove all burnable fuels from a perimeter around Rae, to stop any further incursions from the fire if it is blown back in that direction.
A southwest wind on Thursday was carrying the fire north, away from Behchokǫ̀ and also not in the direction of Yellowknife, for the time being.
But Yellowknife could become an eventual target for the fire if a consistent west wind develops, driving the fire east. Its extreme behaviour this week, in which it covered tens of kilometres in a day to put Behchokǫ̀ under threat, shows how circumstances can rapidly evolve.
The priority “continues to be protecting Behchokǫ̀ and working towards making Rae safe for return,” the wildfire agency stated.
The total of five homes burned in Rae is two more than was previously reported. NWT Fire said those two homes did not burn on Thursday, but that’s when their destruction was confirmed.
There has been no structural damage in Frank Channel or Edzo, and the North Slave’s fibre line remains intact.
“With wind direction today, the risk [of any more damage] is assessed as extremely low,” Thursday lunchtime’s summary stated.