KFN fire remains ‘volatile,’ band office confirmed to have burned

Fire crews appear in a photo posted to Facebook by the Department of Environment and Climate Change
Fire crews appear in a photo posted to Facebook by the Department of Environment and Climate Change.

Renewed heat means the task of fighting the Hay River-KFN wildfire remains complicated, authorities said on Thursday.

Hay River had reached 27C by Thursday afternoon, though Friday is forecast to be cooler. No rain is expected in the week ahead, and daily highs beyond Friday are expected to remain at or near 20C.

Additional fire crews and tankers from other parts of the NWT have joined efforts to keep the fire, east of the Kátł’odeeche First Nation, away from both the First Nation and Highway 5 to the south.

“At this time we are not requesting assistance from other jurisdictions, but some of my federal and territorial counterparts have reached out to offer their support if necessary,” said Shane Thompson, the NWT’s environment minister and the minister in charge of municipal and community affairs.



Meanwhile, Kátł’odeeche First Nation emergency coordinator Atanda Norn and former chief Roy Fabian said the First Nation’s band office was one of the buildings that burned on Sunday and Monday.

On Facebook, Fabian said the office had been the former community of Pine Point’s town hall, and through a series of deals had eventually been acquired from the City of Yellowknife for $1 after Pine Point – a mining town – closed in the late 1980s.

Fabian said the building had been renovated in 2016. “It is sad to see all this work burnt to the ground,” he wrote.

Norn, confirming that the band office had burned, said other affected buildings included private homes and the Judith Fabian group home.



Extremely dry forests and wind

By Thursday, the Hay River-KFN fire was estimated to have burned around 1,750 hectares of land.

“Yesterday, extremely hot and dry conditions led to much greater fire activity and some flare-ups, with heavy smoke and at times ash being pushed by easterly winds towards the communities,” said Mike Westwick, a Department of Environment and Climate Change spokesperson who has been on the ground near Hay River and the First Nation.

Helicopters and air tankers continue to battle the fire. Eleven crews are assigned to it and bulldozers are removing fuel, like foliage, to create lines that seek to keep the fire away from certain areas.

An air tanker attacks a wildfire on May 16, 2023 in a photo published by the Town of Hay River
An air tanker attacks a wildfire on May 16, 2023 in a photo published by the Town of Hay River.

Crews are also working to protect the First Nation’s remaining buildings. There have been no confirmed reports of any further damage since the NWT government’s Monday estimate that 15 First Nation buildings had been affected.

“With these extremely dry forests and the wind we’re expecting to see, fire activity is expected to be volatile,” said Westwick, who said the forecast called for winds to blow from the southwest. “The winds are expected to push the fire away from communities,” he said. “However, the level of fire activity may continue to challenge firefighting efforts.”

The wildfire is believed to have been caused by sparks from a vehicle, Westwick said earlier in the week, though there remains no formal confirmation of that initial suggestion.

Of the NWT’s eight wildfires so far this year, Westwick said six were human-caused. He urged residents to avoid vehicle fires, keep mufflers clear, and avoid driving on dry grass or brush. A full list of vehicle-related fire risks is available on the department’s website.

The Kátł’odeeche First Nation stated on Thursday that work would focus on the Old Village area. Heavy smoke is expected to shift toward the communities on Thursday evening, the First Nation said.



For the 1,000 people who have registered as evacuees, there is no end to the situation in sight.

“Evacuees should be prepared to extend their stay until at least early next week, based on current status of the fire and information provided by the NWT ECC,” the Town of Hay River stated on Facebook.

Around 100 people are estimated to be staying at the multiplex in Yellowknife.

Jay Boast, a spokesperson for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, said: “We are still very much in a situation where the fire is volatile and conditions are volatile, so I think conversations about timelines are premature at this moment.”

“We don’t want people to go back in and have the fire go sideways on us,” Thompson agreed.

“We are relying on our experts and our ECC crews and their advice as we move forward.”