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Avoid Highway 5 if you can, Parks Canada says as closures continue

A map shows satellite hot-spots and burn area of Fire 7 outside Fort Smith as of August 9, 2023.
A map shows satellite hot-spots and burn area of Fire 7 outside Fort Smith as of August 9, 2023.

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Don’t try to use Highway 5 unless you absolutely have to, Parks Canada said as a cycle of wildfire-related road closures continued into Wednesday evening.

In an emailed update, Parks Canada – whose firefighters are battling a fire that crossed the highway on Tuesday night – said the situation was now changing too quickly for “accurate, time-sensitive public updates.”

“Fire on the northwest corner of Fire 7 is being driven by gusting winds from the southeast,” Parks Canada stated.

“This means that the wildfire will continue to impact Highway 5 throughout the rest of today. GNWT traffic flaggers are on-site monitoring road conditions with wildfire personnel from the air. When safe, flaggers are either allowing traffic through at a reduced speed or piloting vehicles through the affected area.”

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Parks Canada asked for people to “avoid non-essential travel in the area” and, if you have to travel, expect delays that could stretch to several hours.

The highway closed and reopened multiple times on Wednesday after a similar closure that began on Tuesday evening.

A GNWT map shows kilometre markers outside Fort Smith along Highway 5.
A GNWT map shows kilometre markers outside Fort Smith along Highway 5.

Fire 7, being managed by Parks Canada having started inside Wood Buffalo National Park, pushed north across the highway at around 8pm on Tuesday.

“The highway was closed for the safety of the public due to fire behaviour and thick smoke,” Parks Canada stated on Wednesday.

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“Fire personnel continue to work to prevent any further northward spread. There is no risk to people or communities at this time.”

Fire 7 was expected to keep growing to the northwest on Wednesday, aided by gusting southeast winds.

“Winds are expected to shift over the next 24 hours. Winds out of the south will improve smoke conditions in town,” the town’s protective services division noted.

“These winds may impact Highway 5 and push wildfires into the Salt Plains area. Watch for changing road conditions, signage, and highway closure notifications.”

Fort Smith remains on an evacuation notice, one step below an evacuation alert.