Warm weather forces temporary closure of Fort Chipewyan winter road

·2 min read

The Fort Chipewyan winter road has temporarily closed because of warm weather and melting ice. The warmer temperatures means the ice is no longer thick enough to handle traffic at the east crossing over the Des Rocher River.

Councillor Bruce Inglis, who represents Fort Chipewyan on council, said the closure could last between five and seven days as ice crews wait for colder weather.

“We have to act now to be cautious,” said Inglis. “We have our standards and we have to follow them closely.”

Inglis said the municipality is not yet considering an emergency response, such as an airlift, because there is still time for cold temperatures to strengthen the ice. The Des Rocher River crossing is causing the most difficulty, but Inglis said the rest of the road is solid.

“We will adapt and adjust,” said Inglis. “These warm temperatures are very unusal this time of year and a large part of Lake Athabasca is open water.”

Chief Peter Powder of Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN) said ice road workers will be working in the area during the next few days.

However, the delay adds serious supply problems, because the winter road has not yet been strong enough this season for fuel trucks to reach Fort Chipewyan.

When the road opened on Dec. 31, only light vehicles weighing no more than 5,000 kilograms could be supported. For cargo and fuel trucks, the road must be able to support 45,000 kilograms.

The community is already cut off from the north, after Parks Canada decided not to build the winter road connecting Fort Chipewyan and Fort Smith, NWT. this year.

Powder said MCFN usually has enough fuel to get the community through to the end of February. For now, he’s not panicking.

“These aren’t the first time we’ve had these issues so we’ll get together as leaders and find a path forward,” said Powder.

Community leaders have had emergency plans since November in case weather conditions delayed or closed the winter road.

Since Jan. 8, Fort Chipewyan leaders have also run a checkpoint outside the community. The 24-hour checkpoint records who is coming in and out of Fort Chipewyan.

In a Wednesday interview, Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) said the checkpoint helps with COVID-19 contact tracing. Since the winter road opened, Adam said 27 non-essential vehicles came into Fort Chipewyan.

“If there’s a breakout and we need to start contact tracing, we would just have to look at our records and go from there,” he said.


Sarah Williscraft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort McMurray Today