Support from northerners like you keeps our journalism alive. Sign up here.
A photo of a wildfire posted to Facebook by Wood Buffalo National Park on June 2, 2023
A photo of a wildfire posted to Facebook by Wood Buffalo National Park on June 2, 2023.

NWT planning region-wide fire ban as resources dwindle, letter suggests


The NWT government will use an obscure power to turn most of the South Slave into a “closed district,” acting as a vast fire ban in a bid to avoid more wildfires, a letter shared online suggests.

On Wednesday evening, the NWT Métis Nation posted to Facebook a letter appearing to come from the territorial government, setting out its plan to activate the new rules from Thursday until at least July 28.

The letter states that any kind of open fire outdoors will be banned in the South Slave, including in a fireplace or fire pit, at a campsite, or an open stove or grill.

Residents will also be banned from firing guns that use tracer or incendiary ammunition, letting off fireworks, and igniting sky lanterns, flares or pyrotechnic bear bangers.



According to the letter, those restrictions don’t apply if you need to use a flare or bear banger in an emergency, or if you’re an Indigenous person exercising a treaty right. Closed stoves, closed barbecues, closed furnaces and CSA or ULC-approved gas and propane barbecues can be used.

The move appears similar in effect to a municipal fire ban, except with some extra provisions and spread over a huge area of the territory.

The GNWT says it is using a provision in the Forest Protection Act to declare the South Slave a closed district, meaning an area in which certain activities – and even the movement of people – can be restricted.

The letter asserts that controlling wildfires has been “very challenging” for weeks in the South Slave and the territorial government’s resources are “fully engaged fighting existing fires,” with little to no chance of getting help from elsewhere in Canada as other jurisdictions face the same problem themselves.



“I do not take these proposed actions lightly, as this will be the first time that the GNWT has imposed orders of this type,” the letter continued. (The pages uploaded by the NWT Métis Nation did not identify its author.)

“The combination of the extreme fire danger, the high number of fires that are currently burning and high temperatures expected over the next week, combined with limited access to additional firefighting resources, has resulted in my determination that these orders and their associated restrictions are required.”

A map of areas affected by the fire ban, as sent to the NWT Métis Nation and published on its Facebook page.
A map of the area affected by the fire ban, as sent to the NWT Métis Nation and published on its Facebook page. The fire ban area is shown in orange.

The Department of Environment and Climate Change has been approached to confirm the letter’s contents and whether any other regions are set to be similarly affected.

While the vast majority of the South Slave appears to be covered by the ban, an accompanying map suggests areas east of Fort Smith are not. (Municipalities can still impose their own bans, and the Town of Fort Smith has an ongoing fire ban in place.)

After July 28, the ban “may be renewed if current conditions continue,” the letter added.

In the letter, the NWT Métis Nation was told: “Although the exercise of an Aboriginal or treaty right by Indigenous peoples will be exempt from the orders and restrictions, I would encourage you to discuss with your members voluntary limits on use of open fires and other possible ignition sources to the extent possible.”