Defence Minister Bill Blair says another company of soldiers is being deployed to Hay River in the Northwest Territories, which has been evacuated for more than a week due to a threatening wildfire nearby.
Blair announced the deployment to the town located on the south shore of Great Slave Lake in a tweet yesterday afternoon, saying it will bring the number of soldiers who are helping the territory around Hay River and Yellowknife to around 400.
N.W.T officials say a fire that’s forced the evacuation of Yellowknife didn’t grow much yesterday and still remains about 15 kilometres away from the capital, but the fight is expected to become more difficult as temperatures rise this week.
Fire information officer Mike Westwick says it has been challenging for crews to suppress fires with winds shifting regularly, which means they have to change their attack strategy.
Firefighters trying to keep wildfires at bay from Yellowknife were taking stock of the situation Sunday morning after cooler, damp weather gave them a break Saturday.
“What we’re looking at doing is scanning a section of the fire and seeing what areas might be appropriate for direct attack,” said Westwick over the weekend. “(We’ll be) putting boots on the ground right in front of the fire and suppressing sections of it.”
Crews will use infrared sensors to figure out where the fire is vulnerable, although Westwick said the fireline is so long that the teams will focus on the most critical areas.
The deserted, smoky city is almost completely evacuated. Only a couple thousand of the northern capital’s 20,000 people remain and about half of them are emergency workers.
About four millimetres of rainfall Saturday gave firefighters a chance to build control lines on Yellowknife’s western edge, Westwick said.
Fuel breaks have been dug, and sprinkler and water systems installed.
“That work is substantially complete, which is really good news,” said Westwick. “We’re making good progress.”
Premier Caroline Cochrane says she has spoken with several federal ministers, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, about how the territory needs financial assistance to deal with the fires and help evacuees.
Planning is already underway in case the upcoming school year is disrupted, Cochrane adds, noting the response could be online learning, which was done during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A special effort was also undertaken to ensure Yellowknife’s homeless population was safe.
“There was significant outreach to people experiencing homelessness,” Westwick said. “There was good success getting them set up with supports in Alberta.”
On Saturday, a black bear had to be scared away from the airport, near where helicopters were taking off. Westwick said there is a chance that the flames were forcing animals out of their regular habitat.
Meanwhile, the fires continued to menace other communities in the territory. Only eight kilometres separated Hay River from the nearest fire, although winds were expected to force those blazes back on themselves Sunday.
Fort Smith wasn’t to be so lucky. Although crews have been building fire breaks and sprinklers lines to protect the town, winds were expected to blow directly into the town.
“They’ve got some troubling winds coming their way,” Westwick said. “The fire’s going to be coming right at them.”
Environment and Climate Change Minister Shane Thompson said that over the last week, 68 per cent of the territory’s population have left due to fires.
No date has been set for anyone to return.