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Twenty-five fire crew members were assigned to battle a fire burning north of Willow River earlier this week. The blaze threatened a communications tower and was edging closer to the highway. Firefighters around the Deh Cho, including Peter Hardisty in Fort Simpson, are battling fires across the Deh Cho.

Smoke blankets Wrigley

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Wrigley (July 22/05) - Forest fires burning near Wrigley have caused thick smoke and ash to waft through the community over the past week.

More than a dozen residents with respiratory problems were evacuated on July 14. They were allowed to return the next day when the wind shifted and the smoke cleared.

Of the two lightning-caused fires burning closest to the community, the much smaller one was of greater concern, according to forest officer Daniel Allaire.

Five fire crews were assigned to combat the 31-hectare fire, south of Wrigley but north of Willow River. It was only a few kilometres from the highway and a NorthwesTel tower. A few family homesteads were also in the vicinity.

"That's the one we're putting a lot of resources and time into," Allaire said Monday.

Rain fell on Sunday night, which kept the blaze of getting out of control, he noted.

A fire to the west of Wrigley, which was only five kilometres away from the community at its nearest point, grew to nearly 9,000 hectares when two blazes merged. There was little chance that it would jump the Mackenzie River because the ground near the shore is covered in willows rather than tall trees, Allaire noted.

It still alarmed some community members, according to resident Gaylene Oskenekisses.

"You could see the fire from standing on the bank," she said. "People were just lining up by the bank watching it."

Sprinkler systems have been set up to protect old Fort Wrigley and a cabin at the south-east corner of the fire, said Allaire.

A total of 83 fires had started in the Deh Cho region as of Monday.

Over the past week, smoke has also filled the sky in other Deh Cho communities to varying degrees. Although some of that smoke may have been from the fires near Wrigley, infernos in Alaska are at least partly responsible, according to Allaire.

An employee with the department of Environment and Natural Resources posted information on forest fire smoke exposure in Fort Simpson last week and distributed it to community governments. Among the tips is to stay inside with the windows and doors closed.