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Growing wildfire just 1.5 km from Hay River town centre

The situation in Hay River continues to look bleak as flames continue to head for the town.
A wall of fire heads for Hay River on Friday evening. The massive flare-up forced the evacuation of everyone left in the town with the exception of firefighting crews. Photo courtesy of Hans Wiedemann

The situation in Hay River continues to look bleak as flames continue to head for the town.

The latest update from NWT Fire on Saturday morning showed the fire sitting at 399,407 hectares and within 1 km of the airport. That means it’s 1.5 km from the town centre. In terms of the K’atl’odeeche First Nation, it’s 7 km away from houses on the reserve, while it’s already reached Patterson Road and Paradise Gardens, damaging structures in the latter area.

No damage was reported in the populated areas of town, according to Mike Westwick, wildfire information officer with the Department of Environment and Climate Change. But there was some loss on the west side of the town in the form of a cabin and a travel trailer.

The fire has crossed Highway 5 in two locations: between kilometres 6 and 9 and between kilometres 14 and 20. Kakisa is not under immediate threat as of yet — the flames were 12 km southeast of the community as of Saturday — but Kakisa is vulnerable to winds from the east.

The fire took a turn for the worse on Friday as a “blow-up event” occurred, which overwhelmed the GNWT’s fire defences and ran parallel to the highway that leads into Hay River.

With the exception of firefighters and air support crews, everyone in the town was evacuated just after 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon. Those who remain in the community are doing so on their own with no emergency services or support.

Helicopters and airtankers are scheduled to continue working on the northern perimeter of the fire Saturday to reduce the intensity and slow the fire’s growth, if possible. Structural firefighters were working on hot spots in areas impacted by the blaze — it’s believed the work done before the fire got as close as it did saved multiple structures from loss on Friday evening.

Hay River Kandis Jameson held a press conference Saturday afternoon after being evacuated from the town the evening prior.

She praised the work of fire crews, the military and the Hay River Fire Department under Chief Travis Wright for their efforts in protecting the town.

“They fought last night with grace and humility,” Jameson said. “I can’t say enough about what I witnessed in the last two weeks.”

Jameson also said 61 people had evacuated on an initial military flight out of the town, while 105 military personnel, two residents and five other personnel had evacuated on a second flight. In addition, about 40 vehicles left by road.

She estimated that there were still about 100 people remaining, but hoped that it was less than that and anyone who was still in town on their own was doing so at their own risk.

The forecast shows a low probability of precipitation over the next three days with temperatures climbing into the upper 20s or low 30s C. Moderate winds are expected, blowing predominantly from the south.

-with files from Kaicheng Xin

About the Author: James McCarthy

I'm the managing editor with NNSL Media and have been so since 2022.
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