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Yellowknife stores play down concern over highway closure


Major stores in Yellowknife say there's no immediate risk of goods shortages after a wildfire closed the NWT's only road link to Alberta.

On Wednesday afternoon, authorities in Alberta said the wildfire near Steen River was approaching 20,000 hectares in size and out of control.

Alberta Highway 35 and NWT Highway 1 remain barricaded between Enterprise and Zama City. As of 2:10pm on Wednesday, there was no information regarding when that might change.

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The highway's closure has not only disrupted NWT residents attempting to visit the south or return north. Various goods vehicles, bearing everything from produce to gas, are said to be held up in lines forming to the south of the barricade.

However, Yellowknife business owners said there was no need for residents to be concerned about supplies for the immediate future.

Jeff Kincaid, business development manager at Yellowknife's Co-op, said the store was well-stocked and no shortages would be expected for at least a week or two, if the highway were to remain closed.

Kincaid said logistics companies farther south appeared confident the closure would be short-term in nature, though he acknowledged he had no first-hand knowledge of the wildfire and its extent.

He urged Yellowknife residents not to feel the need to panic-buy – adding that, in the past, problems had been caused not by supply shortages but by Yellowknifers frantically filling 45-gallon fuel drums when they had no real need to do so.

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Another Co-op representative said a fuel delivery had arrived on Tuesday, "so we're perfectly fine here."

At the downtown Independent grocery store, a manager said it was too early for any real concern about delays to shipments – adding there had been no sign of customers stocking up on groceries.

A representative at Yellowknife's downtown post office did say Canada Post delivery delays could be expected, adding they are not sure how long mail may take to arrive.

Instead of trucks rerouting via British Columbia – the only other road into the NWT – the representative said parcels and mail may be flown from Edmonton to Yellowknife.

'Matter of logistics'

Earlier in the week, Det'on Cho Logistics' Stu Impett organized a delivery of supplies from Yellowknife by air to High Level wildfire evacuees in Fort Vermilion.

On Wednesday, Impett told Cabin Radio he has no concerns about the highway closure, saying it would have to last for a couple of weeks to pose a real inconvenience.

“It would have to be fairly lengthy one … We have quite a lot of storage over the airport for jet fuel,” he said.

“It's just a matter of logistics planning to keep things moving, to be honest.”

The offending wildfire, which began near Steen River, grew expeditiously in the past 24 hours, officials said.

What had been a small wildfire of fewer than 200 hectares had, by Wednesday, leapt to an estimated area of 17,419 hectares.

"We are seeing wildfires grow at night, which is very unusual," Alberta wildfire information officer Derek Gagnon told the CBC on Wednesday.

"It means the conditions out there are so extreme that we are not getting that overnight recovery, so we are seeing very extreme wildfire danger conditions in the area right now."

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