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Sharing your NWT vacation with a wildfire and 28 firefighters

Firefighters unload supplies from a floatplane at Yellow Dog Lodge. Photo: Manjushree Thapa
Firefighters unload supplies from a floatplane at Yellow Dog Lodge. Photo: Manjushree Thapa


If you book a dream Northwest Territories vacation and the lodge turned out to be about 50 metres from a wildfire, you might think twice.

But after reading about the wildfire menacing Yellow Dog Lodge last week – and watching dramatic footage of the fire, shot and narrated by lodge owner Gord Gin – tourists Manjushree Thapa and Daniel Lak were undeterred.

Now, they’re sunning themselves on the lodge’s ample deck while chatting with 28 firefighters brought in to battle wildfire ZF011.

“We worried about it, but Gord kept saying, ‘Well, it looks OK and you should come.’ I don’t regret it,” said Lak, a former BBC and Al Jazeera English journalist.



Looking out of the window as their Ahmic Air plane reached Yellow Dog Lodge, Lak said his attention was caught by a “huge blackened area” just south of the lodge, where Duncan Lake and Graham Lake meet.

“You can see how close this came,” he said. “It’s a stone’s throw, literally, and I guess that was a back burn that really stopped the worst of the flames from marching on the lodge.”

A view of a wildfire from an Ahmic Air aircraft. Photo: Manjushree Thapa
A view of a wildfire from an Ahmic Air aircraft. Photo: Manjushree Thapa

Alongside them at the lodge are Gin and his small staff plus a range of fire crews, the latest being a seven-person team arriving from New Brunswick. Gin described flights from Air Tindi and Ahmic Air coming and going, accompanied by helicopters heading to and from the wildfire’s southern flank, which crews are attempting to hold as far from Yellowknife as possible.

As of Wednesday evening, ZF011 was about 35 kilometres from Yellowknife as the crow flies, though Prosperous Lake lies between the two.



The city is not currently in any danger from the fire, but Gin still marvelled at the effort going into keeping it that way.

“It’s amazing, the resources they’re putting on this fire,” he said, noting that while five or 10 millimetres of rain had fallen over the weekend, the area remained parched.

“It’s one of those seasons that’s been very disruptive,” he said. “In some ways, it’s a good thing because we are hosting the firefighters – we’re feeding them and keeping them replenished, and hopefully they get plenty of rest so they can get back on the fire line and help prevent it from growing.”

Monsoons to wildfires

For Lak and partner Manjushree Thapa, a Nepal-born Canadian novelist and essayist, the fire is something to take seriously but also a change from the usual pace of a vacation.

“I’m a writer. I’m quite into seeing real life as it happens rather than the ideal holiday,” said Thapa.

“This is the year when everyone – whether they’re vacationing in Europe, or in Florida, or up north – is confronting climate change and seeing it very graphically laid out in front of us. This is the reality, and I’m really glad I’m here.”

“Just meeting Gord and meeting the firefighters, meeting the staff – these people are doing amazing work up here,” said Lak.

In late July, Yellow Dog Lodge owner Gord Gin narrates efforts to fight a wildfire close to his property.

While Lak had been to the NWT once or twice before in his role as a journalist, this is the couple’s first visit together.



It is not, however, their first experience negotiating forces of nature while on a trip.

“I’m originally from Nepal. We often go on treks there and this reminds me very much of a trek I was on last fall, where the monsoon had washed away all of the roads,” said Thapa.

“We had local guides who kept assuring us that there was a way through and they knew it. It was about trusting people who know more than we do.

“We asked Gord and other folks, what do we do? And everyone said: ‘Try not to cancel if you don’t absolutely have to, if you’re not endangering others or yourself.'”

A calm evening at Yellow Dog Lodge, with a hint of burned forest in the background. Photo: Manjushree Thapa
A calm evening at Yellow Dog Lodge. Photo: Manjushree Thapa

Their vacation is set to continue next week with time fishing and kayaking on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake.

“The folks from the Territories who’ve been on the line for 17, 20 days without rest, they’re cheerful,” Lak said, asked how their firefighting companions are faring.

“They talk firefighting the old time. Very impressive, good morale. So that’s a good thing.”