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Fort Good Hope wildfire forces evacuation of Northwest Territories town

Click to play video: 'NWT wildfire: Rapidly growing wildfire threatens northern community of Fort Good Hope'
NWT wildfire: Rapidly growing wildfire threatens northern community of Fort Good Hope
A human-caused wildfire is on the doorstep of Fort Good Hope in the Northwest Territories after exploding in size from an abandoned campfire. Officials say the fire has grown to 200 hectares and now threatens the isolated community of Fort Good Hope. Nathaniel Dove reports on what is quickly becoming a very serious situation – Jun 16, 2024

A wildfire, which officials suspect was caused by an abandoned campfire, reached the edge of Fort Good Hope, a  Northwest Territories town, within 24 hours of ignition and forced residents to evacuate.

As of 6 a.m. MT Monday, the fire hasn’t destroyed any buildings, according to a government update. But an official speaking to Global News on Sunday said “there is a threat that structures could be lost.”

“Yesterday I was crying and kind of worried about my house, and thought I was going to lose my home,” Fort Good Hope resident Thelma Tobac said.

“Just not knowing what’s going to happen is scary and heartbreaking.”

She and her three children fled by boat across the river. During the interview a huge plume of smoke towered in the distance over the small town of about 500 people.

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Fort Good Hope is nearly 800 kilometres from Yellowknife and can only be accessed by plane or boat. Officials and residents say being so remote creates challenges when fighting the fire and getting to safety.

“The fire was getting really close to the road, the access road to the airport,” Elizabeth Ewen, a Yellowknife musician in town for work, said.

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“So that’s when the worry started to set in for me, when they weren’t too sure (if the fire would cut the road off). We were still waiting on the planes to come.”

She spoke to Global News from Norman Wells, N.W.T., on Sunday, a town about 160 kilometres south of Fort Good Hope.

“The sirens went on at 1 p.m. and it took — I think I was on the plane at around 10 in the evening,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Canadian wildfire fighters don’t want ‘catastrophe’ to be ‘catalyst’ for change'
Canadian wildfire fighters don’t want ‘catastrophe’ to be ‘catalyst’ for change

The Territorial Emergency Management Organization in a statement said five planes completed 16 trips to bring approximately 240 passengers there.

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“There are an estimated 100 people sheltering at a fish camp along the Mackenzie River, and more who half self-evacuated to camps and cabins along the river,” the statement said, adding there is “no identified need for further evacuation at this time.”

The fire started less than four kilometres away from the city on Saturday, fire information officer Mike Westwick told Global News.

“We do suspect that this fire was person-caused,” he said, speaking from Yellowknife on Sunday.

“It’s been a very intense 24 hours. It will continue to be a very serious and challenging situation going forward.”

By Monday morning the fire had grown larger than 200 hectares.

He said four firefighter crews, three helicopters and several air tankers were deployed to fight the flames and protect the town, with more on the way.

“It’s a real challenge in getting the resources necessary to fight fires. In that area, when you’re limited to only being able to fly things in and out,” he said.

Westwick told Global News on Sunday that the biggest concern was that there was no rain in the forecast in the next three days.

Without significant moisture relief, this will continue to be a pretty significant challenge, managing this fire,” he said.

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He also told Global News he had no estimate yet as to when the fire would be under control and when residents could return home.

Tobac, across the river from her home, said she’s hoping for the best.

“The fire still looks big, and it’s pretty hard to say when (I could go home)”, Tobac said.

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