Vehicles gather outside Rae's sportsplex in the early hours of July 26, 2023, in a still from a video shared by a resident.
Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief Jackson Lafferty flew to Behchokǫ̀ overnight to urge stragglers onto waiting aircraft as a wildfire bore down on the community.
Speaking in a video from Edzo’s airport, Lafferty said ash was falling and the fire was getting worse.
“This is an emergency state, we should have everyone on a plane. There are two planes here sitting and we need to get out,” he said.
“Lives are at stake here and it’s life and death.”
One of the few remaining residents said shortly after midnight they had been “chased” to the community’s sportsplex for their own safety, where they described a water truck watering the area around the facility.
“It’s so scary on this side, please pray for us,” they said in a video of the scene shared shortly after 1am on Wednesday.
Power remained out in Rae throughout the night – the NWT Power Corporation said staff could not be safely transported to the power plant after the fire cut a transmission link to the Snare hydro facility.
As of 5:15am, there was no definitive update on the status of the community.
Wildfires generally die down overnight and don’t make such swift progress as they do when driven by sun and wind during the day.
In recent years, some more extreme wildfires have bucked this trend and raged overnight, but wildfire information officer Mike Westwick said on Tuesday that the fire threatening Behchokǫ̀, ZF015, had been significantly less active at night.
Meanwhile, Highway 3 is now closed from Fort Providence all the way to Yellowknife – almost the entire length of the highway.
The NWT’s Department of Infrastructure made that announcement shortly after midnight.
Travellers hoping to head north are having to wait either in Fort Providence or communities like Hay River.
Wednesday’s weather forecast is for a continuing east wind that will push the wildfire toward Behchokǫ̀, but that wind should be less strong and gusty than it was on Tuesday.