Wildfire less than 1 kilometre from Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., as evacuation flights continue

Fort Good Hope, N.W.T. is under evacuation order due to a threatening wildfire. (Bobby Clements/Facebook - image credit)

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The wildfire threatening Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., is now less than a kilometre away from the community.

In an update at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, N.W.T. Fire said there is a high probability of structure loss in the community overnight.

The fire has not yet reached the airport road, but that could happen overnight, according to fire information officer Mike Westwick.

The fire, which was about five hectares earlier in the day, has now grown to an estimated 200 hectares.

"It's increased in size by about 40-fold since our last assessment," he said. "With the continuing winds and long periods of sunlight in the area, it is expected that that fire will remain active through the night."

Westwick said winds began shifting to the northeast, which is likely to push the fire toward Fort Good Hope.

Fire crews are currently focused on holding the fire at the road, and N.W.T. Fire has been working to get more structure protection into Fort Good Hope.

"That work continues — we're just doing absolutely everything we can to protect what we can as this extreme situation unfolds," Westwick said.

More resources are on the way, he added.

"We're working to staff this up."

He said visibility is starting to become a challenge, but air tankers have still been flying consistently and will keep doing so for as long as they can.

Evacuation flights are still going forward and have begun carrying N.W.T. residents from Fort Good Hope to Norman Wells.

"People are still getting out safely," Westwick said.

He added that in addition to Norman Wells, Deline and Inuvik both are welcoming people as necessary.

The community ordered an evacuation Saturday afternoon after N.W.T. Fire said the wildfire could reach Fort Good Hope within 24 hours if winds shifted.

Laura Busch, a spokesperson for the N.W.T. Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, said the first flight departed Fort Good Hope around 8:15 p.m.

In all, five planes from Air Tindi and Summit Air, with a capacity of about 110 residents combined, are in the midst of getting people out of Fort Good Hope. It's about a 20-minute flight from Fort Good Hope to Norman Wells.

Busch said the department has about 250 people registered for flights. The community has just over 500 residents and doesn't have an all-season road, meaning people can only leave by air or by boat.

"For the evac flights, our plan is to keep running them back and forth until everyone who needs to be out is out of the community," she said at around 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Earlier in the evening, Busch said the nearby community of Délı̨nę, N.W.T. had also offered to take in evacuees if needed.

"Please pack light and pack your important paperwork, ID and most importantly your medication," Fort Good Hope Chief Pierrot directed residents in a Facebook post Saturday afternoon.

Meanwhile, as of 8:38 p.m., fire information officer Mike Westwick said additional air tankers have arrived and are actively working on the fire. There are now four water skimmers and two Electra heavy air tankers working on the fire.

As of about 7 p.m. Saturday, the fire was less than two kilometres northeast of the community at its closest points, and about four kilometres from the airport, according to Westwick.

He said N.W.T. Fire's most recent measurements had the fire at five hectares in size, but based on satellite images, the fire may have more than doubled in size since then.

Westwick said N.W.T. Fire has sent in two additional crews to help the one that was doing initial attack, and is mobilizing an incident management team to manage the fire over the longer term.

'There will be a hot meal waiting'

Norman Wells Mayor Frank Pope said many people in Norman Wells have volunteered to put friends and relatives up in their homes, and the town has also prepared the community hall and area to welcome evacuees.

"We've got cots there, the folks will have access to washrooms and to showers. We have our staff, the fire department, a bunch of volunteers cooking, so when the folks get in here … there will be a hot meal waiting for them."

Anyone in Norman Wells who can volunteer or assist the effort can contact local fire chief Brandon Scott at +1-867-688-0683, the town told residents on Facebook.

Leaving by boat

Fort Good Hope elder Frank T'seleie told CBC News he and his partner are planning to evacuate the community by boat to his fish camp by the Mackenzie River.

He said the community government has provided them and others planning to leave by boat with gasoline for the trip.

"We're just packing up the food, camp supplies. If need be, we'll just jump in the boat and away we go. There's cabins along the river so no problem," he said.