A wildfire caused by lightning outside Yellowknife leapt in size on Thursday, forcing NWT crews to escalate their response with power transmission lines nearby.
A smoke plume from the wildfire, dubbed ZF-024, was visible from the city on Thursday. The fire is 45 km away to the northwest, south of Awry Lake.
In the space of Thursday early afternoon, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) said the fire – which is out of control – grew from 140 hectares to 260 hectares in size. “It’s growing rapidly,” a spokesperson said.
The department said ZF-024 was “exhibiting extreme fire behaviour” and had “escaped initial attack,” meaning the first response from air tankers failed to contain the fire.
The department is now establishing a dedicated incident management team for the fire, based in Yellowknife – as opposed to its ordinary regional approach, in which one team manages all fires in a region.
Tankers and crews have been pulled away from the fire while the newly formed team devises a plan “which will focus on limiting the growth,” said department spokesperson Meagan Wohlberg.
Wohlberg said no cabins or communities are currently at risk, but the fire “is located within a few kilometres of NWT Power Corporation infrastructure.”
Paul Grant, the power corporation’s director of corporate planning, told Cabin Radio he believed the fire to be five kilometres from the corporation’s transmission lines between Yellowknife and the Snare hydro system.
Grant said contact between the lines and the fire was “not imminent” and there was “no problem right now,” with power still arriving from the Snare system.
Were the wildfire to reach the transmission lines, it’s possible the fire could burn beneath the lines without interrupting power supply, Grant said.
If the fire does reach the power lines and knock out power, the city would continue to be supplied by the separate Bluefish hydro system and diesel generators at the power corporation’s Jackfish site.
Grant said any outage would be a “short blip” while the power corporation switched to an alternative power source, but stressed this was not an immediate concern. He said the corporation remained in touch with ENR.
The fire is one of several caused by lightning from storms that rolled across the North Slave on Wednesday.
The two other new North Slave fires are significantly smaller at less than a hectare in size each.
In the Sahtu, three new lightning-caused fires were reported. By far the largest is a fire around 80 km south of Tulita, which was said to be 626 hectares in size and is being monitored.
An abandoned campfire just outside Norman Wells and a burning brush pile near Fort Good Hope also caused fires, which have since been brought under control.