Sweeping fire ban extended as N.W.T Fire reports good progress on Behchokǫ̀ fire

Residents of the N.W.T.’s North Slave region were added to a historic fire ban Friday — the largest ever implemented by the Government of the Northwest Territories. The ban completely prohibits the use of open fire outdoors, including  open fire pits or burn barrels. 

The ban was announced as a 114,000-hectare wildfire continues to rage near Behchokǫ̀, about 45 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife, where four structures have been lost to the flames.

N.W.T. Fire says good progress has been made the last couple days battling the blaze, although the situation is changing rapidly.

“We’ve continued to move forward with the plans we’ve wanted to move forward with for the past few days,” said fire information officer Mike Westwick Saturday. “Which is always good news when you’re on these incidents. It means that you’re steadily making progress, and ultimately that means people and the things they care about are safer.”

Westwick said possible rain Saturday will give crews some more time as they extinguish fuel sources around Behchokǫ̀, whose 2,000 residents remain outside of the community. This weekend will see crews move steadily down Highway 3 as they implement more structure protection. 

That highway, as of noon Saturday, was open, though that could change quickly. 

Westwick said driving the highway is one of the most dangerous things people can do right now.

“When it’s smokey, when the visibility is low, it’s really important for yourself as well as the safety of folks working along the highway to drive cautiously, drive slower than usual if you can, and keep your headlights on so that you’re as visible as possible.”

While Behchokǫ̀ remains the priority, Westwick said Yellowknife is next on the list, as crews hope to establish a fire retardant line from Great Slave Lake to an area north of the city that saw wildfire damage in the summer of 2014. 

The fire ban for the North and South Slave Regions will stay in place until Aug. 4.

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