Wrigley is keeping a close eye on the situation unfolding with FS008, the fire burning approximately 40km to the south of the community.
Meanwhile, the Department of Infrastructure said Highway 1 is currently closed from kilometre 553 and the Mackenzie River/N’dulee Ferry is only open to southbound traffic.
“There are three crews on the north end of the fire and two helicopters with buckets — they should have that area controlled by the end of the day,” said Pehdzeh Ki First Nation (PKFN) band manager Kyle Clillie on Wednesday. “Towards the south end of the fire, it’s moving less because of the wind conditions. So that’s not a real threat right now. But they do have water tankers in action there as well. And the very south end the fire has gone out.”
In its daily wildfire update on Wednesday evening, ENR added, “Some spotting, meaning smaller fires spawning away from the main fire caused by embers traveling through the wind, has occurred near River Between Two Mountains.”
Clillie also reports that there’s a fire on the east and west side of the Enbridge pipeline, which is still in use.
“All companies are required to have a wildfire protection plan in place as well – and we know Enbridge takes that very seriously,” said wildlife information officer Mike Westwick, responding to a request for comment. “We have teams in place protecting Enbridge’s pipeline infrastructure. The fire has burned over it in some places, but the pipeline is under ground and there has been no damage.”
Clillie also reports that a cabin owned by the Nation and often used for cultural events and youth activities has burned down in the blaze near Joan’s Landing.
He said many Elders in PKFN are concerned about ENR’s controlled burns – which the department says have not been completed as its not safe to do so under current conditions.
“They don’t want the backburn because of the conditions of the dry season. It may just take off on them and hit the community. Right now it’s around the Enbridge area, and that’s too close,” said Clillie.
PKFN Chief Lloyd Moses seconded this view, saying forests are currently overrun with caterpillars which defoliate and remove moisture from trees.
“It’s extremely dry and the tips of the evergreens are all dry from moth larvae. They don’t understand the danger we are in. All we need is a rolling fire on the top of the tree tips and we will be in serious danger.”
“Because the fire grew so much in a matter of hours, the community is taking action into their own hands, without any funding,” Clillie said. “We have a fire guard crew that is re-slashing all the fire guards and working with ENR to get a sprinkler system in place for the community. We appreciate the everything the ENR and the GNWT (Government of the Northwest Territories) is doing, but they should be there to support us and not taking their own actions.”
In response, wildlife information officer Mike Westwick said concerns around the community’s safety and the issue of controlled burning have been heard.
“We have heard the concerns from the Elders – and always consider traditional and local knowledge when planning wildfire management before the season, and while fighting fires during the season.
“We have not completed controlled burning as conditions have been assessed conditions as too extreme to do it safely. Ignitions are a specialized activity that requires specialized training – both in the activity itself, and in assessing when is best to do it.”
Wednesday evening’s wildfire update noted controlled burns are still being planned for the northwest section of the fire to limit trees and overgrowth that may serve as fuel to limit fire growth when it is safe to do so..
“No community is on their own when it comes to wildfire management. When we have wildfires in the proximity of communities, protecting that community is always at the top of our list of objectives,” said Westwick.
Spokespersons from both ENR and the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs repeated that there is no current threat to Wrigley. Despite the ominous cloud of smoke over the community, there is no reason for alarm at this time, and no reason to think an evacuation may be necessary.
But Wrigley residents are not totally convinced, and are readying themselves for the worst case scenario.
“We experienced this before with the Fish Lake fire,” said Clillie. “Overnight, it came over the mountain. So we’ve experienced this before, and this time, we would like to be prepared.”
A heat warning is currently in effect for the area, with temperatures soaring to 30 degrees Celcius through Thursday and Friday. Environment Canada has also issued a warning about air quality.