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Most of Fort Smith safely evacuated as fire reaches Thebacha turn-off

Hot-spots picked up by a satellite near Fort Smith are shown as red marks in this screengrab from 1:30am on Monday, August 14.
Hot-spots picked up by a satellite near Fort Smith are shown as red marks in this screengrab from 1:30am on Monday, August 14.

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At 1:30am on Monday morning, Fort Smith Protective Services updated that fire activity around town had calmed down and that almost everyone had been evacuated to safety.

“Additional planes will be available in the morning to evacuate anyone else willing to leave,” the update continued, noting people remaining will continue to be supported by essential municipal services and RCMP security.

The town has also set up the Community and Recreation Center to provide shelter-in-place protection if needed.

Earlier on Sunday evening, anyone left in Fort Smith should leave their home and shelter from an oncoming wildfire at the town’s recreation centre, the NWT government said.

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It is extremely smoky in the town, as wind is driving the smoke into the community.

“The fire has progressed to approximately the Thebacha turn-off to the west of Bell Rock,” read the early morning update. “Dozer guards are being made to the west of Bell Rock to protect the community from any further advances. ECC and Parks Canada will be moving heavy equipment into the area over night and into the morning.”

Flights began leaving Fort Smith bound for Fort McMurray in a bid to get the last remaining people in the town out of harm’s way late on Sunday night.

Northwestern Air Lease flights were shown on flight tracking websites leaving Fort Smith for Fort McMurray shortly after 11pm.

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The town’s protective services division said another aircraft was due to leave the town for the same destination at 1am.

The town said damage to a fibre line meant all cell service in the community had been lost.

Residents who left Fort Smith for Hay River on Saturday are now being told to head for Grande Prairie, Alberta, after Hay River itself came under an evacuation order earlier on Sunday.

Fire 7 appeared from satellite hot-spot imagery to be making progress east on Sunday evening, in the direction of Fort Smith.

“Due to strong winds from the west, Fire 7 is currently showing significant fire activity and spread towards communities, as forecasted,” Parks Canada stated on Sunday evening.

“As a result of the extreme smoke conditions, aircraft are unable to fly. This makes it difficult to estimate where the fire is currently.”