Wildfire jumps fire breaks, ‘rising risk’ to Hay River and Highway 5

The Hay River-KFN wildfire on May 18, 2023. Mike Westwick/GNWT

The Hay River-KFN wildfire has jumped two fire breaks on a day where the situation “worsened significantly” and ahead of a Friday expected to be even more bleak.

In an evening update, the NWT’s wildfire agency said Thursday was “extremely challenging” and winds from the southeast drove the fire toward Hay River and the Kátł’odeeche First Nation.

The Town of Hay River said the current situation meant “increasing risk to Hay River,” and the NWT government said crews were working to re-establish fire breaks, keep the fire away from the First Nation’s Old Village, and “decrease the likelihood of embers being carried to Hay River.”

“This response has so far been successful,” the Department of Environment and Climate Change stated at 9pm.



“As challenging as today was, tomorrow is expected to be worse. Make no mistake – there is rising risk to the Town of Hay River as this situation unfolds.”

The Hay River-KFN wildfire is seen in a false-colour Sentinel-2 satellite image on May 17, 2023
The Hay River-KFN wildfire is seen in a false-colour Sentinel-2 satellite image on May 17, 2023.

The Town of Hay River said anyone left in the community should now get out for their own safety.

In the late afternoon, the wildfire surged through fire breaks on its northwest flank, near the Old Village, and to the southwest close to Hay River, the GNWT stated. Huge clouds of smoke could be seen as a result.

Air tankers and helicopters are working into the night to try to re-establish the fire breaks and protect the Old Village. The Town of Hay River said fire crews would monitor the situation on the far side of the riverbank overnight, hoping to catch any embers quickly as they land.



Despite Thursday’s setbacks, the territorial government said no further damage to buildings had been reported. Earlier, the First Nation confirmed its band office had burned at the start of the week.

The Dene Nation is organizing a prayer ceremony at 10:30am on Friday at Yellowknife’s multiplex, the designated evacuation centre. TD Bank said it was donating $8,000 to the United Way NWT fund supporting people affected by the wildfire, and the GNWT announced it would match donations to the fund up to $150,000.

On Friday, the GNWT expects heavy winds to push the fire toward Highway 5 and increase the risk of embers reaching Hay River.

“We believe there is a very good chance the fire reaches Highway 5 tomorrow,” the GNWT stated, which would have consequences for residents of Fort Smith and Fort Resolution who rely on the highway for road access out of their communities.

Twelve crews are now on the fire with more resources requested, the GNWT said, “to help do everything possible to reduce risks for the communities.”