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NWT Wildfires: KFN chief says communication lacking about remaining wildfires

K’atl’odeeche First Nation Chief April Martel is criticizing the GNWT for a lack of communication about the community’s long-term wildfire plan.
A firefighter extinguishing a tree candling fire on Sept. 17. The Wood Buffalo Complex is estimated at 488,568 hectares. Photo courtesy Wood Buffalo National Park

K’atl’odeeche First Nation Chief April Martel is criticizing the GNWT for a lack of communication about the community’s long-term wildfire plan.

She made the comments during a press conference Sept. 19.

“I’m not hearing no updates,” she said. “You see KFN is still burning in the backyard, now that I’m returned home, no one has reached out to me.

“Minister (Shane) Thompson, I think you need to start reaching out… so we can get more clarification as to what’s happening in our backyard.

“I’m telling people if you’re going out, please don’t go on these areas but someone should be there to explain all of that process because we’re not really clarified as to how far the fire is or where it is. I’m not getting any of that information,” said Martel.

Emergency Management Organization information officer Jay Boast said the GNWT flew 294 people to Hay River and 373 residents to Fort Smith over the past few days. Officials counted 1,934 vehicles moving northward toward home.

Boast said the GNWT is now looking at how it would reimburse the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba for their assistance during the evacuation.

GNWT wildfire information officer Mike Westwick said more than four million hectares of land have been affected this season. There are currently 121 active wildfires in the NWT. There have been 296 wildfires this year.

A state of emergency for the South Slave region has been renewed by Thompson, the minister of Municipal and Community Affairs. It remains in effect until Oct. 2. Support for evacuees of Fort Smith, Hay River, and K’atl’odeeche First Nation has now ended. Anyone who has not returned to the communities is effectively on their own financially, except for evacuees from Enterprise and a few select areas of Hay River. Those people currently have until Sept. 22, though that could be extended if the areas remain under evacuation order.

Dredging of the Hay River harbour resumed Sept. 18. The dredging first started in August but had to be postponed due to the evacuation. An extension has been granted until Oct. 7.

“Based on recent dialogue with DFO, it was discussed that the triggers for fish migration, including changes to water temperature and flow, have likely been delayed this year given the unseasonably warm temperatures and sustained low precipitation and water levels. As a result, it is expected that an extension to the dredging window will not result in increased risk of interactions between dredging activities and fish,” the Town of Hay River stated.

Firefighters at the Wood Buffalo Complex report that 77 kilometres of the northern perimeter is now under control and an additional 61 km is contained. The Wood Buffalo Complex is estimated at 488,568 hectares.

“Crews completed ignition operations to anchor the northeast perimeter of the fire into the Slave River,” said Wood Buffalo National Park fire information officer James Eastham on the effort to protect Thebacha. “This shores up control lines in the area to help prevent the fire from spreading east into the community. Crews continue to extinguish hotspots along Connie’s Road and Foxholes Road to secure the perimeter. Structure protection remains in place along the Thebacha Road until complete. Closures for all three roads are being implemented and we ask that you please give our crews the space they need to work safely.

“Poor flying conditions meant that work was limited to areas accessible by ground. Firefighters worked in areas accessible by ground to suppress active fire south of Fort Fitzgerald,” Eastham added. “Crews and heavy equipment are working east from the Hay Camp Road along the dozer guard to extinguish hotspots in this area. The fire has burned deeply into the ground here and this work is anticipated to take some time. Heat-sensing scans continue to be completed on a regular basis to help firefighters find and extinguish hot spots.”

About the Author: Eric Bowling

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