2 cabins burn down south of Wrigley due to wildfire

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Smoke from a wildfire, which led to the closure of a Highway 1 between Fort Simpson and Wrigley in the N.W.T., in July 2021. (Hannah Paulson/CBC - image credit)
Smoke from a wildfire, which led to the closure of a Highway 1 between Fort Simpson and Wrigley in the N.W.T., in July 2021. (Hannah Paulson/CBC - image credit)

Two cabins south of Wrigley, N.W.T., have been destroyed by wildfire, the Northwest Territories government reported Tuesday.

One was a cultural cabin owned by the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation and is believed to have burned more than one week ago, according to a news release from Mike Westwick, the territory's wildfire information officer.

The other is believed to have burned over the weekend when the fire "took a 15-kilometre run during extreme fire weather."

The loss of the cabins happened "despite tireless efforts by teams on the ground to protect structures in the area," Westwick said, adding that the community's leadership has been informed of the losses.

Westwick said heavy smoke and ash may have prevented fire crews from assessing all values in the area, and may be the reason behind the delayed discovery of the cabins.

"We never want to see folks lose things in fires," Westwick said. "We understand that these values are often important for social, cultural, and community wellness."

He said the wildfire team has been working "tirelessly to do whatever is possible to protect structures," while also keeping responders safe during wildfire season.

"The unfortunate reality is that these kinds of losses happen. In the N.W.T., we're in a landscape shaped by fire with things we value dotting that landscape. Sometimes, we're just not going to be able to make it in time."

Westwick said there is "absolute certainty" that the damage to the cabins was not due to the ignition operations which were used as a line of defence for the community of Wrigley against the wildfire. Ignition operations involve intentionally set fires used to burn fuel and slow down or stop the advance of a wildfire.

The territory's website says crews have been mopping up the burn areas to clear any residual burning from ignition operations. It says some hotspots were "found and dealt with" by crews in the phase one burn area west of Highway 1 toward the Mackenzie River.

"They were not occurring in the areas these cabins were found," Westwick said of the operations.

Twenty firefighters have been brought in from Saskatchewan to help N.W.T. firefighters.

There are currently 118 wildfires burning in the territory as of Tuesday afternoon, with 328,392 hectares of land burned this season so far.

Eligibility for trappers and harvesters compensation assistance from the department is being explored with the owners of the cabins, Westwick said.

Fire crews are still working to bring the fire under control.

He reminds residents to keep fire smart principles in mind to help prevent wildfires.

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