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With better visibility, air tankers fully join the fight to control Highway 3 wildfire | CBC News


The smoke from the wildfire that burned four homes in Behchokǫ̀, N.W.T., has cleared enough that air tankers can start working in full force to slow the fire’s growth.

Until now, terrible visibility has meant only small bits of the giant, 1,140-square-kilometre wildfire have been accessible by air.

On Friday morning, fire information officer Mike Westwick said Thursday’s reprieve from fierce winds has allowed crews to get “into a roll.” They’re building a perimeter around Rae (one portion of Behchokǫ, formerly Rae-Edzo), turning some of their attention back to Highway 3 and starting to look at the east side of the fire burning 45 kilometres west of Yellowknife.

“We’re able to fly air tanker missions, so we’re beginning to build a fire retardant line along that east side of the fire there toward Yellowknife, to reduce or slow the growth of the fire should the winds kind of go the wrong way there,” he said.

Four homes in total have been confirmed to have burned in Rae. While part of the fire reached Frank Channel on Wednesday evening, the fire still hasn’t crossed the channel and hasn’t progressed into Edzo.

Westwick said at last report, the homes at Frank Channel were safe and structure protection was still holding.

“I think that the good thing is that we’re now in a place where our plans have been the same for the past couple of days,” he said. “We’re getting good work done and yeah, the situation has not changed considerably.”

Highway 3

The fire is still burning very actively on both sides of Highway 3, where it’s gobbled up a 34-kilometre stretch of land along the road and, to the south, has burned to the shores of Great Slave Lake in places.

The highway reopened Thursday night and remained open as of 8 a.m. Friday morning.

“We’ve got folks heading back out on Highway 3 to get structure protection established, because there’s more fuel to burn in that area,” Westwick said.

Until now, fire crews haven’t been able to assess the damage done to structures along Highway 3. That work is now starting to begin and Westwick said they will know more in the next day or so.

Protecting Rae

Fire crews are also building what’s called a “blackline” — basically extinguishing all remaining fuel along the perimeter of the fire where it reached Rae.

They’re working their way from a 50-foot-wide blackline to 100 feet.

“We need to get a much stronger perimeter around Rae. We need to make sure that those hotspots in the populated areas there are taken care of,” he said.

But other work needs to be done too before it’ll be safe for community members to return.

That includes making sure power infrastructure is stable and essential services are in place.

On Thursday afternoon, the Northwest Territories Power Corporation posted to Facebook that four power poles had burned in Rae.

They’ll need to be replaced before the power corporation can restore power to the community.

The power corporation said it was hoping to start work Friday to repair its infrastructure, if possible.


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