Wood Buffalo Complex Wildfire Information Update – September 14, 2023
(Previously Parks Canada Fire 7, Alberta Wildfire MNZ003, and NWT SS069)
Managed under unified command between Alberta Wildfire, the Government of the Northwest Territories, and Parks Canada from the incident command post in Fort Smith.
The Wood Buffalo Complex was last estimated at 485,670* hectares in size.
* When visibility allows, firefighters use multiple tools to measure distances and size. These tools have various accuracies and are subject to change. For up-to-date estimated distances from the fire to each community, please see attached map.
As of yesterday, 21 km of the northern fire perimeter is considered controlled. A controlled fire perimeter is the portion of fire perimeter that has received sufficient suppression action to ensure no further spread of fire. 93 km of the northern perimeter is considered contained. A contained fire perimeter is the portion of the fire perimeter that is not expected to spread given current resource commitments and forecasted weather and fire behavior conditions.
There are currently 320 personnel responding to the Wood Buffalo Complex, which includes 43 pieces of heavy equipment, 15 helicopters and 119 firefighters and structure protection firefighters. These numbers fluctuate as personnel leave the incident for much needed rest and new personnel and resources arrive.
The Fort Smith area continues to be unseasonably warm and dry. Yesterday’s continued heavy smoke in the area significantly impacted helicopter operations for a second day. Ground-based firefighting operations were not affected. The smoke led to lower temperatures and higher relative humidity than forecast which helped to suppress fire behaviour. The area received scattered showers overnight, with an accumulation between .3 and 2.5 ml, which will help suppress fire behaviour today. However, due to historic levels of drought the fire status will remain unchanged until significant precipitation is received.
Today’s high is expected to reach 19 degrees Celsius and a relative humidity of 50 percent. Northwesterly winds are expected with gusts up to 40 km/h shifting to Southwesterly with winds at 10-15 km/h.
Hot, dry and windy conditions are expected to return Friday and Saturday, potentially leading to increased fire behaviour. Temperatures remain approximately 5 degrees Celsius higher than the seasonal average.
What is being done:
Based on the continued hard work of fire crews, the Incident Management Team was able to recommend that Smith’s Landing First Nation begin preparing for the return of Bordertown residents. These preparations will begin with the removal of structure protection equipment in the community. For information on re-entry plans for residents in Bordertown, contact Smith’s Landing First Nation.
While the risk to some communities continues to decrease because of firefighting efforts, threats in surrounding areas remain. Structure protection in the Thebacha, Fort Fitzgerald and Bell Rock areas will remain until the fire perimeter in these areas is controlled.
Thebacha: Crews patrolled the fire perimeter in this area and extinguished hot spots. Fire management personnel continue to assess opportunities to use ignition to help make the fire perimeter easier to control in this area. The perimeter in much of Connie’s Road and Foxholes Road area remains contained due to the significant ongoing active firefighting efforts of crews. As some residents return to their communities, it is imperative that members of the public avoid these areas. Please give our crews the space they need to work safely.
Fort Fitzgerald: Crews worked along the perimeter closest to Fort Fitzgerald to extinguish hotspots. Poor flying conditions meant that work was limited to areas accessible by ground. Work will continue to secure the perimeter south and west of the community.
Hwy 5: Firefighters continue to patrol the eastern portion of the fire perimeter along Highway 5 for any remaining hot spots. As members of the community return, please be aware of crews working along the road – please slow down and give them space to work as you pass. A speed reduction to 60 km/h will be implemented along Highway 5 between Salt River and Fort Smith to help ensure firefighters’ safety. The RCMP are assisting with increased speed enforcement to ensure crew safety.
Fort Smith: Crews patrolled the perimeter south of Fort Smith closest to the community to ensure it remains controlled.
Heat-sensing scans continue to be completed nightly to help firefighters find and extinguish hot spots. The scans assign each heated area to a GPS coordinate, which crews use to zone in on the spots and take a “seek and destroy” approach, extinguishing them one-by-one. Crews working areas throughout the fire have been reporting 2-3 feet deep hot spots. Putting out spots this deep requires significant time and effort. Hotspots must be excavated by hand or with heavy equipment and extinguished with bucket support from helicopters and lots of water from hoses.
Questions & Answers:
Q. What is happening with re-entry?
A. The Town of Fort Swift continues to work toward lifting the evacuation order with essential service workers returning before the general public. Information on the Town’s re-entry plans may be found at: https://fortsmith.ca/evacuation-updates
Pre-registration is ongoing for re-entry flights for evacuees from Fort Smith, Hay River and Kʼatlodeeche First Nation. Residents from these locations can pre-register until 8:00PM on Thursday, September 14.
Information on pre-registration can be found here: : https://www.gov.nt.ca/.../re-entry-flights-hay-river...
We are working with communities to plan for their re-entry but are not yet able to provide a firm date.
Reminder: The Town of Fort Smith continues to be under a STATE OF LOCAL EMERGENCY and remains under an EVACUATION ORDER. The ORDER has been issued for public safety. If you are not an essential worked, please do not return until re-entry for the general public has been announced.
For more information on re-entry planning, please reach out to your community.
Q. I have returned to Fort Smith as an essential worker and want to travel down Pine Lake/Foxholes/Connie’s Road or to Bell Rock. Can I?
A. As members of the community return to the area, we have received requests to travel down currently closed roads. While we understand that residents may wish to check in on their cabins or are curious about how the landscape has changed, we are asking members of the public to obey all closures.
Active fire operations are taking place, particularly along Foxholes Road and Connie’s Road and in multiple locations along the Pine Lake Road. Fire crews are working hard to re-open public access to these areas and will continue to require space to work safely.
Important safety information: Areas without active operations that have previously burned remain unsafe. Extreme drought conditions in the Fort Smith area have led to the wildfire burning deeply into the ground. Ash pits 2-3 feet deep are common throughout the fire area. These ash pits are difficult to see and can cause severe burns and injuries.
Trees with burnt root systems or trees that are partially burnt can fall easily and without warning, especially in windy conditions. They pose a significant risk of serious or fatal injury. Even unburned trees may be unstable due to the extreme drought in the area.
Highway 5 is currently closed to the public from Hay River to Fort Smith due to safety concerns and limited visibility. Essential workers returning by vehicle will be allowed through the closure checkpoint as long as conditions are safe for travel. For more information on highway closures, visit https://www.dot.gov.nt.ca/Highway
Pine Lake Road from Bordertown to Peace Point remains CLOSED due to fire behaviour and active fire operations in the area.
Following ongoing recommendations by Unified Command of the Wood Buffalo Complex, the town of Fort Smith remains under an evacuation ORDER. This ORDER has been issued for the safety of the public. For up-to-date information please visit the links below and follow the Protective Services Department and Town of Fort Smith on Facebook.
For updated wildfire conditions visit:
NWT Highway Conditions website: https://www.dot.gov.nt.ca/Highways
Protective Services Facebook page: Protective Services
REMEMBER: There is still a COMPLETE FIRE BAN for the Municipality of Fort Smith and Wood Buffalo National Park. Propane appliances are allowed. Use extreme caution and keep all heat sources clear of combustible materials.
Continue to monitor this page, the Town website, and fire status websites for your region to receive the most accurate and up-to-date information.