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Wood Buffalo Complex Updates: September 13, 2023

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Wood Buffalo Complex Wildfire Information Update – September 13, 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 485,159* 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 37 pieces of heavy equipment, 17 helicopters and 177 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. Temperatures are approximately 7 degrees Celsius higher than the seasonal average. Yesterday, heavy smoke in the area significantly impacted helicopter operations. The smoke led to lower temperatures and higher relative humidity than forecast and helped to suppress fire behaviour.

Today, similar smoky conditions are expected with temperatures in the mid 20 degrees Celsius and a relative humidity of 35 percent. Light winds from the South are expected to increase by late evening with gusts of up to 30 km/h. Light showers are possible overnight.

The drought code remains over 1,100 and will remain at extreme levels until significant precipitation is received.

​What is being done:

Aerial operations were significantly impacted yesterday due to smoky conditions. As a result, crews used ground patrols to monitor the fire perimeter and worked to extinguish hot spots.

Thebacha: Crews patrolled the fire perimeter in this area and extinguished hot spots. The perimeter in much of Connie’s Road and Foxholes road area is considered contained due to the significant ongoing active firefighting efforts of crews. As residents of Fort Smith return to the community it is imperative that members of the public avoid this area. 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. The RCMP are assisting with increased speed enforcement to ensure crew safety.

Perimeter line south of 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.

​​Do not fly drones near wildfires

Yesterday fire management personnel received a report of a recreational drone flying within the wildfire NOTAM (Notice to Air Missions) area.

As community members return to the area, we understand that people may be curious about the changes to the landscape. However, flying drones (including those below 249 grams) above an active wildfire area is illegal and dangerous.

Flying drones over a wildfire endangers firefighting personnel and may cause firefighting operations to stop. Illegally flying a drone could result in fines of up to $15,000.

​​Question: What is happening with re-entry?

As the Town of Fort Swift have begun the steps needed to lift the evacuation order with essential service workers returning before the general public. Information on the Town’s re-entry plans may be found here:

The Government of the Northwest Territories has begun pre-registration for re-entry flights for residents of Fort Smith. Pre-registration for re-entry flights is now available for evacuees from Hay River, Kʼatlodeeche First Nation and Fort Smith. Evacuees from these locations can pre-register until 8:00PM on Thursday, September 14.

Information on pre-registration can be found here:

While the risk to Fort Smith has been reduced, there is still more work needed to secure the fire perimeter close to Thebacha, Bell Rock, Bordertown and Fort Fitzgerald before residents of those communities can return. Crews continue to work hard on suppressing the fire in these areas and are making good progress.

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.


Highway 5 is currently closed from Hay River to Fort Smith due to safety concerns and limited visibility. Click here for highway closure information.

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:

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.

News Type: 
General News