A wildfire near the highway in northern BC on September 1, 2023. Photo: Leona Kraus
Highway 7 from Fort Liard south to the British Columbia border has been closed for five days, shutting off one of only two roads directly connecting southern provinces to the NWT.
The closure of Highway 7 and its equivalent on the BC side of the border, Highway 77, has cut off Dehcho residents’ access to groceries and stores in places like Fort Nelson.
But the closure has also interrupted journeys home for Yellowknife evacuees who chose to flee to either BC or the Yukon.
Aaron Perrott told Cabin Radio he and his wife were waiting to see what happened to the highway from BC to the NWT as they make their way back from Haines Junction to Yellowknife.
“Planning to stay in Teslin and Liard Hot Springs. Depending on the highway, we’ll decide from there,” Perrott wrote. “Fingers crossed Highway 77 reopens, not just for our trip, but as backup for fuel and groceries should the main route south become compromised.”
Walter Pope said a “number of people” had been stuck on the Fort Nelson side of the border since Saturday, adding that the disruption seemed to be “getting lost in the noise” of the Yellowknife and Kelowna fires.
The NWT Department of Infrastructure referred Cabin Radio’s questions about the highway situation on the NWT-BC border to the BC Wildfire Service.
The Prince George Fire Centre told us the issue is the Patry Creek wildfire (labelled fire G91739), which is burning out of control across a stretch of Highway 77.
“With the high winds we received over the long weekend, the fire activity was quite aggressive. Within 48 hours, the wildfire grew 40 km,” a spokesperson for the Prince George Fire Centre told us by email. “The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality has issued an evacuation order for the vicinity of G91739, which includes part of the highway.”
The fire centre says the full extent of any damage to infrastructure in the area isn’t clear, as the fire service hasn’t had the resources to do a full assessment yet.
However, downed trees are reported across Highway 77 as well as “danger trees,” in other words standing dead or dying trees within striking distance of the highway. The fire itself still poses a threat, as does smoke, the agency stated.
Meanwhile, the Fort Nelson zone has 49 active wildfires in total, 28 of them still out of control, and only so many fire crews assigned to the area. “With the limited resources we currently have, we prioritize our fire crews on structure protection and community protection,” the Prince George Fire Centre stated.
With that in mind, there’s no obvious timeline yet for the highway to reopen.