NWT Highway 1 west of Fort Simpson faced a series of temporary closures as a nearby wildfire grew to 120 hectares and moved within a kilometre of the road.
Fire FS-015 covered four kilometres in the space of a day as it moved in on the highway, around 100 km west of Fort Simpson heading toward Wrigley. The highway was temporarily closed on Friday night and again on Saturday. On Sunday morning, the territorial government said the road was passable once more but could close at any moment.
In a Saturday assessment of the fire that remained essentially unchanged on Sunday, the NWT’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources said FS-015 had “exceeded fire suppression efforts at this time” and wildfire crews were reassessing how to respond to it.
A much larger fire, FS-01, is burning on the north side of the Mackenzie River. That fire was not understood to pose an immediate threat to the highway. No communities are currently at risk from any fires in the NWT.
Wildfire FS-016, an out-of-control fire across the Liard River from Fort Simpson’s airport, is also causing concern in the community. Mayor of Fort Simpson Sean Whelly on Sunday contemplated the declaration of a fresh emergency, two months after flooding swept through the village, and said food supply could be threatened if the highway to the east was cut off. An evacuation was not out of the question, he suggested.
The territorial government in its latest update said FS-016 was not yet threatening any infrastructure. Even so, the fire had rapidly grown from 28 hectares to almost 1,000 hectares as of Sunday according to data published by the national Canadian Wildland Fire Information System.
So far, the 2021 wildfire season is shaping up to be a little more active than other recent summers. To date, around 16,000 hectares of the territory’s trees have burned – the entire season in 2020 accounted for just 21,000 hectares.
There have been 53 separate fires this year (27 are still active as of Saturday) compared to 70 in 2020, 145 in 2019, and 59 in 2018.