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Premier Caroline Cochrane outside Yellowknife's evacuee centre on July 24, 2023. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Premier Caroline Cochrane outside Yellowknife's evacuee centre on July 24, 2023. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

NWT premier calls for ‘national attention’ after fifth wildfire evacuation


With five Northwest Territories communities now forced to flee wildfires this summer, the territory’s premier says Canada must take action.

Caroline Cochrane spoke as she visited a Yellowknife evacuee centre for Behchokǫ̀ residents on Monday night.

An evacuation order for Behchokǫ̀ was issued earlier that evening in the face of oncoming wildfire ZF015, which has burned more than 60,000 hectares to the east of the community of 2,000 people.

By 9pm, dozens of vehicles and at least one school bus carrying evacuees had turned up at the multiplex, with hundreds more people on the way.



One family of evacuees described catching sight of flames in the distance to the north as they made the drive to Yellowknife. ZF015 is understood to be within two kilometres of Highway 3 in some places – a highway that is also Yellowknife’s only road access south.

A GNWT map shows the area burned by fire ZF015, shaded in red, east of Behchokǫ̀ and near to Highway 3's black line.
A GNWT map shows the area burned by fire ZF015, in red, east of Behchokǫ̀ and near to Highway 3.

Cochrane said the threat wildfires pose in the NWT this summer should be a headline nationwide.

“We’re doing the best we can. It’s time to support the North, and if the federal government isn’t listening then I need the people,” Cochrane said.

“Although I’m not comfortable with it, I’ve been focusing on trying to get as much national attention to the North as possible, so that people start talking about the North.”



Expressing her fear for smaller communities who face wildfires without road access, Cochrane said big road-building projects – the likes of which have long been on the territory’s wish list – had to happen fast.

“Communities are at risk. We’ve been asking for road systems to those communities for decades, and now I’m worried about getting them out if necessary,” she said.

“We all know the only way into or out of some communities is flight, and if it’s too smoky, flights don’t happen. I’m putting as much pressure as I can but I need everyone doing it.”

But the headlines in Canada this week also reflect environmental crises throughout the nation – flooding in Halifax, fires in British Columbia – and beyond, with heatwaves spanning North America and Europe, and Greek wildfires being likened to “a biblical catastrophe.”

Acknowledging that, Cochrane said: “When I’ve been with other premiers at forums, usually the territories are quiet, the Maritimes sit on the outskirts and three prominent provinces do all the talking.

“I’ve been pushing my way in there, as much as possible, to try to get people to recognize. And it’s working. I’ve been getting calls from the Globe and Mail, I’ve been getting calls from Power and Politics.”

‘Pray for early winter’

Cochrane said she came to the evacuee centre – inside a multiplex normally used for hockey and trade shows – in part on behalf of many Tłı̨chǫ leaders, who she said are currently away at the Lac Ste Anne pilgrimage and unable to attend in person.

“Recognizing that, it was really important that I show up here and show people that we’re here, we care, and we are here to support them,” she told Cabin Radio.



“I’m here to hear the concerns of people, try to support them, get water for people, make phone calls to friends of friends and try to get pets taken care of – and reassure people that we’re here to help, and they are not on their own.”

Her evening visit marked the second time in a day that she had urged the federal government to do more, having earlier discussed climate change with New Democratic leader Jagmeet Singh as he stopped in Yellowknife.

“We need help to adapt to a new reality,” Cochrane said at a news conference with Singh.

More than a million hectares have now burned in the NWT this summer, already the territory’s second-worst fire season this century with months left to go.

Behchokǫ̀ joins Hay River, the Kátł’odeeche First Nation, Sambaa K’e and Wekweètì among NWT communities whose residents have faced wildfire-related evacuation orders since May.

Together they represent more than 6,000 people, or about 13 percent of the territory’s population.

“It’s horrible for everyone. Every person in the NWT is feeling this, it’s either our friends or family. It’s a scary situation, and we’re not even halfway through,” said Cochrane.

“We’re going to do the best we can to make sure that their homes are as safe as possible, that they have a place to sleep and food to eat.

“We can’t fight all the fires, we know that. We’re focusing on the communities. We’re setting up sprinklers systems, we’re doing fire breaks as best as possible – we’re trying our best, and we’ll continue the fight until winter. Let’s pray for an early winter.”