An NWT Fire image shows a helicopter bucketing a wildfire near Hay River in early September 2023.
The Town of Hay River has urged evacuees to remain patient as work continues to fight a huge nearby wildfire, saying recent rain was not enough.
Though Hay River enjoyed a wet weekend, the town said late on Monday that “the timeline for re-entry is dependent on an acceptable level of risk” – and the fire has not reached that level.
“The fire has been active over the last few days, coming as close as 100 metres to structures,” the town wrote online. “There remains a strong fire risk, and re-entry by anyone not required to be there will be a burden.”
An RCMP checkpoint remains in place at the foot of Highway 2 leading into the community.
Over the weekend, NWT Fire said crews had begun carrying out a plan to “secure the town” by doing two things.
First, the plan involves using heavy machinery to build a border of nothing burnable along the fire’s edge “running from the shores of Great Slave Lake through the entire Hay River corridor to the west of town,” the wildfire agency stated.
Crews will then go along that same perimeter on the fire’s side of the line, blacklining – extinguishing anything hot or burnable near the fire’s edge – to create “a strong, secure perimeter around populated areas and avoid further damage.”
At a Monday press conference, NWT Fire’s Mike Westwick said that work is likely to carry on for the foreseeable future as long as conditions don’t worsen.
“The key to stopping a wildfire is to halt perimeter progression, which is exactly what all these steps are doing,” Westwick said, asked about the medium-term action to make Hay River safe for residents to return.
“We’re in the early stages of that work … Barring anything making us deviate from this path, this is the focus in the short term, the medium term and the longer term. We would then want to see mop-up be done with Type III firefighters.”
The military pulled out of Hay River when a fresh flare-up threatened the town’s western flank a little over a week ago, and members of the armed forces are not expected to return. The military deployment to the NWT formally ends on Tuesday, a spokesperson confirmed at the same press conference.
“We’ve anticipated this on the firefighting front,” said Westwick of the military departure, which involves the withdrawal of many members trained specifically in Type III firefighting, work that involves mopping up behind a fire but not directly attacking one.
“We have about 200 or so known extra firefighters trained up in the territory that we can draw from, and are ready in that pool, to assist in Type III firefighting efforts,” Westwick said on Monday.
He stressed, however, that the Hay River fire is not yet back at that calmer stage.
“The fire remains highly active, it’s not appropriate for Type III firefighters,” he said.
“We’ll explore the appropriate assignments once we get to that point.”