A file photo from 2019 of haze generated by wildfire smoke from northern Alberta descending over Yellowknife. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
A wildfire outside Yellowknife almost doubled in size between Friday and Saturday, but smoke in the city’s air was attributed to fires elsewhere.
The Awry Lake fire, which began on Wednesday around 45 km northwest of the city, was said to be 1,750 hectares in size on Saturday – but not significantly closer to the community.
The 1,750-hectare figure came from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, which coordinates resource-sharing between provincial and territorial firefighting teams. The territorial government’s figure provided on Saturday was a little smaller, at 1,300 hectares.
The fire was just under 950 hectares in size a day earlier, the NWT government said. On Friday, the territorial government said no cabins, communities, or infrastructure were at immediate risk.
Power lines were within five kilometres of the wildfire at the time. The NWT Power Corporation said it was monitoring the situation.
On Saturday, a strong smell of smoke filled the air in Yellowknife – but appeared not to be directly connected to the nearby wildfire.
Modelling software suggested the smoke hanging over Yellowknife is instead mostly from a much broader complex, fuelled by fires continuing to burn in northern Alberta.
Some smoke entering the NWT is coming from Alaska, which is enduring a particularly severe wildfire season.
The Awry Lake fire’s progress south is being hindered by a large burn area from the territory’s 2014 wildfire season, meaning it is unlikely to provide a threat to Highway 3 in the near future.
A map shows the Awry Lake fire’s progress up to July 20, 2019 – in yellow hotspots as recorded by satellites – imposed over the region’s history of wildfire burn areas, shown in brown. The dark brown area immediately south of the fire burned in 2014.
The wildfire remains several dozen kilometres from Yellowknife and poses no immediate threat.
The 2014 fires, which did not require any form of evacuation but did reduce air quality in the city for weeks, came significantly closer to the community than this year’s fire has to date.
Territorial fire crews established a separate command team to focus on the Awry Lake fire this week. On Saturday, the territorial government said that team was “conducting fire assessment activities to determine fire intensity and tactical actions for fire response.”
In a statement, the territory said: “Planned response activities for today include air tanker retardant drops on the southern and eastern edges of the fire and ground deployment of fire crews.
“An ignition specialist is assessing conditions for a controlled burning operation dependent on weather conditions.”
The territory reiterated there is “no threat to the city of Yellowknife and the fire remains about 42 km away.” The fire danger level remains extreme for the North Slave.
Meanwhile, several new fires have been identified in the past 24 hours. The largest of those is a 1,000-hectare fire near Doran Lake in the territory’s southeastern barrenlands, more than 200 km from the nearest community.