'Light at the end of the tunnel' for Hay River landfill fire

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The landfill fire in Hay River continues to burn, but town officials said firefighters are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“We're making very good progress on the firefighting activities at the landfill site," reported Glenn Smith, the Town of Hay River's assistant senior administrative officer, on Thursday.

"Hopefully within the next few days ... [we'll] come towards an end of activities associated with the direct fire attack."

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Then, he said, "There are a lot of monitoring activities that will start to be undertaken as we move away from the attack and more towards maintenance and monitoring."

In the short term, that means weeks of monitoring the landfill to make sure the fire doesn't reignite.

Air and water monitoring will also continue after the direct fire attack is over. Smith said plenty of clean-up at the site will need to take place.

Relief crews from Fort Smith and Yellowknife left earlier in the week and a new crew from Yellowknife has arrived to support the Hay River firefighters.

Smith said this week's unseasonably warm weather created favourable conditions for the crews: equipment isn't freezing or breaking down, while workers who have been on-site 24-7 have a reduced risk of exposure.

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Despite continued air quality alerts issued jointly by Environment Canada and the territory's departments of environment and health, Smith said that on the ground on Thursday afternoon in Hay River, skies were clear.

“[There have been] no traces of smoke that we've been able to detect in the town core for some time," he said.

"We’ve had favourable winds but the amount of smoke right now is actually getting quite low on-site."

The fire was first noticed on March 3. Smith commended Hay River's firefighters – all of whom are volunteers except for the chief – for their hard work.

"[The fire] has demonstrated the quality of our firefighting resources and volunteers," he said, also thanking the firefighters' families, employers, and the community for their support over the past two and a half weeks.

"[The firefighters] are working long hours and they've been stressed by the highrise fire and other medical and fire activity that they regularly respond to, but spirits have been high."