Back-up equipment from Alberta has arrived in Fort Smith. Photo: Paul Bannister
Everyone in Fort Smith was safe overnight and the town is so far untouched by a wildfire at its doorstep, a town councillor said on Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, an 11am update from Parks Canada stated that the fire, named Fire 7, is currently burning four kilometres south of Fort Smith, and is flanking toward Highway 5 and the town. This means the fire parallels the wind direction and moves more slowly.
The update said only one millimetre of rain fell overnight, which will provide enough moisture for about two-thirds of a day before fire behaviour is expected to return to extreme conditions.
The priority on Tuesday is to prevent the fire from reaching Fort Smith, the airport and other nearby communities like Fort Fitzgerald, the update stated.
“Should favourable conditions exist, in areas where the fire is coming toward Highway 5, crews will examine opportunities to conduct strategic micro-ignition efforts to gently bring the fire to the pavement. Removing fuel prior to an approaching fire can slow down the spread of fire once it joins up with the burned area,” Parks Canada said.
Park staff are also monitoring Fire 18 and Fire 23, as they have the potential to impact the efforts to fight Fire 7. Fire 23 is north of the Nyarling River pull-off, while Fire 18 is south of the highway around Mile 99.
While the territory’s Department of Infrastructure has closed Highway 5, Parks Canada said flaggers with the territorial government will be on site 24/7 monitoring the road with the help from air support.
“When safe, flaggers are either allowing traffic through at a reduced speed or piloting vehicles through the affected area. When required, flaggers will stop traffic on Highway 5 until it is safe for people to proceed. Visibility may be impacted, and delays should be expected.”
In two video updates on Tuesday morning, Councillor Dana Fergusson said there had been no structural damage to Fort Smith through Monday night.
“We are all safe,” she said, noting Fire 7 jumped the highway at Salt Mountain and headed south toward Wood Buffalo National Park, avoiding the community so far thanks to favourable winds.
Fort Smith had rain overnight. “The ground is still soaked from all the rain last night,” Fergusson said at 9:15am.
“This all around me is a mix of fog and smoke,” she said in a video as she walked outside, “but I think mostly fog because as I’m looking at the ground, you see how damp, how just wet everything is? So it gives me some serious optimism for today – let’s hope.”
Fergusson said crews had been doing “a fantastic job of creating huge fire breaks and setting up sprinklers everywhere.”
She added: “Nothing has burned. No homes, no infrastructure, no community buildings have burned here.”
Fergusson said while phone lines are still down, people on the ground can communicate using online channels like Facebook Messenger when they are able to connect to Wi-Fi.
There are currently 93 personnel and 6 helicopters actioning fires in the national park on Tuesday.