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Yellowknife re-entry paused as winds expected to ‘accelerate’ fires near highway

The re-entry of most essential workers into Yellowknife is being put on hold because high winds are expected to “accelerate” fires along Highway 1, according to a joint statement from the N.W.T. government and the City of Yellowknife. 

The highway is currently open, the statement said, but it’s expected to close to all traffic from Friday until Sunday, and it could close without warning if visibility deteriorates, said the statement.

The news release was issued shortly after 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Mike Westwick, a fire information officer for the N.W.T. government, told CBC News a short time later that fires on both sides of the border with Alberta are posing a challenge along Highway 1. 

power pole burned in forest
Burned power poles along Highway 1 near Enterprise. The N.W.T. government and the city of Yellowknife are pausing the re-entry of essential workers to Yellowknife because fires on both sides of the border are expected to shut down Highway 1. (Submitted by Brad Mapes)

“This pause in phase 3 of the re-entry process is driven by the need to prioritize the safety of responders and essential staff working hard to prepare Yellowknife to welcome evacuees home,” the joint statement said.

The territory said the pause is “directly related to the wildfire risks associated with returning by road.” It said it does not affect essential health-care staff who have been identified by the Department of Health and Social Services and health and social services authorities. 

“Despite the closure of the highway, the repatriation of essential health staff [by air] will continue during this time,” the statement said. “This is important to allow time for safe resumption of services.”

Westwick said a fire in the Cameron Hills area, near the Alberta border, was of the “greatest concern.” Winds up to 35 kilometres an hour, with sustained gusts up to 50 kilometres an hour are expected in that area. 

“It’s going to push fires that are currently active significantly to the area,” he said. “The fire is going to move. That’s the reality with the weather, and that’s why the decision was taken.”

The latest on the North Slave fires

The wildfire situation in the North Slave region didn’t appear to have changed much as of Wednesday evening.

The fire burning 29 kilometres southeast of Dettah, known as the Dettah fire, remained out of control according to N.W.T. Fire’s 2 p.m. update.

The wildfire agency said there was “minimal perimeter growth” on the southwest side of the fire detected Tuesday night, and crews were prepared to action hotpots and any threat to a containment line. 

Smoke from a wildfire is seen in the distance, beyond a forest and pond.
The wildfire near Yellowknife flared up in some areas on Aug. 29, but officials say the fire is still classified as being ‘held.’ (N.W.T. Fire/Facebook)

The fire between Yellowknife and Behchoko, as well as the Ingraham Trail fire, are still classified as being held. Here’s a story with some clarity about what, exactly, that means. 

N.W.T. Fire said crews responded to smoke columns coming from a blow up on the south side of that fire Tuesday night, caused by high temperatures.

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