Evacuees head to an aircraft at Hay River's airport. Photo: Town of Hay River
The NWT declared a state of emergency on Tuesday over wildfires threatening multiple communities, as Yellowknife issued an evacuation alert for western areas.
Fort Smith and Hay River were not reached by nearby wildfires but remain in jeopardy. NWT Fire said the risk to Yellowknife from a separate fire is rising. At 6:45pm, the city said residents of Kam Lake, Grace Lake and the Engle Business District should be ready to leave at short notice.
Fire ZF015 west of Yellowknife was 16 km from the city by the end of Tuesday.
“The fire is not expected to reach Yellowknife in the coming days, however, risk to the city and Ndılǫ has risen since yesterday,” the wildfire agency stated earlier in the day.
Military backup has now arrived in the Northwest Territories. More than 100 members of the Canadian Armed Forces were due to start work in the NWT on Tuesday after the territory requested federal help.
Five communities in the South Slave and Dehcho are under evacuation orders, as are stretches of cabins north and west of Yellowknife.
Yellowknife itself declared a state of emergency on Monday evening to requisition contractors and heavy equipment as it builds wildfire defences.
We brought you live updates on this page throughout Tuesday as the territory continued to battle a wildfire crisis affecting multiple communities.
If you have updates to contribute – offers of help, news about organizations or groups, or shoutouts you’d like to give to people who are helping – send them to us by email. You can also use this form on our website. Please also get in touch if you are an evacuee and are happy to talk to us about what’s happening or share photos and video, and it’s safe to do so.
Updates appear below, the most recent first. Refresh the page for the latest. All times are in MT.
23:20 – This live text is winding down for the night because there’s only so long you can stay up writing about new fires. We will be back in the morning. Thanks for reading!
23:04 – Rudi Slagter put out a fire at Fred Henne after driving past and seeing something was wrong. Do we give out medals for this stuff? Can there be a second medal for this photo of him Ashton Gahdele sent?
22:53 – NWT Fire has a short post up suggesting one fire to the north of Long Lake being tackled by fire crews “to ensure this fire doesn’t become a problem.” That was about 15 minutes ago.
I’ve spoken with two people who have first-hand accounts of two fires but again, one is confirmed out.
22:51 – Drove over to Fred Henne. There were two separate fires. At least one is out. I have a message from someone who says they have first-hand knowledge that the second is under control but not immediately able to verify.
Heck of an account coming up from a Yellowknifer who saw the fire from the road and went to put it out.
22:18 – There are multiple reports of a fire at Fred Henne park. I so far have no confirmed details.
22:16 – New from Emily with important details: You’ve heard about the shelter-in-place plan for Yellowknife. Here are some of the key details if any part of the city ends up under an evacuation order.
22:00 – I am aware that some Yellowknife residents are taking the decision to leave. Within our team, we’re currently making sure everyone has a plan they are personally happy with. We will maintain our coverage throughout.
21:59 – It’s Ollie again. Here’s our full report on the update regarding the fire that’s now 16 km from Yellowknife.
21:24 – “Tomorrow will be an extremely challenging day. West winds sustained 20-25km/h gusting 30-35 km/h and continued dry conditions will drive severe fire activity – likely causing meaningful progression to the east of the fire. Chance of 1mm of rain, but not enough to make a dent in the fire,” says NWT Fire.
21:21 – The fire is now 16 km northwest of Yellowknife at the nearest point. Full update here.
21:11 – Never have I ever refreshed Windy so much. If you want to see projected wind directions and speeds over the coming days, this is a good place.
20:33 – Meanwhile, the wildfire agency also notes that Big River Service Centre is open in Fort Providence – and then after that, the nearest gas station is in Meander River, AB.
Internet is also working at Big River again, so they can once again accept credit cards and debit card.
Google Maps tells me there is about 335 km between the NWT and Alberta gas stations. Remember to check highway conditions before heading anywhere.
20:33 – KFN is FEEDING animals, not FREEING them. So sorry for missing that very important ‘D.’ It’s been a long day. Typo has been corrected below.
20:30 – From NWT Fire’s 8pm update (because we need some good news too): the weather was favourable in the South Slave today, with rain helping prevent the fires from reaching Fort Smith and Hay River. This also gave crews a chance to further strengthen and build protections.
20:26 – The author of a comprehensive study of the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire sees “echoes” in Yellowknife. He’s worried. Here’s the full interview with Ollie.
20:25 – The fire has come within 20 km of Yellowknife. Read the full update here on all of the NWT’s fires.
20:10 – Kátł’odeeche First Nation shared on Facebook that their fire crews are feeding the animals left behind.
“Fire-Chief Michael Sunrise, George Bugghins, John Martel, Lorne Beggair, Randy Buggins,” KFN said, adding that the crew is also securing buildings and homes.
19:54 – The news conference has wrapped up. Once again, you can watch it here on CBC, scroll back through our live text, or wait for a story from us coming soon.
19:52 – CBC says people are anxious and asked why a step-by-step plan is not being provided to residents in case the fire breaches fire breaks.
“So the the escalation from an evacuation alert to an evacuation order would mean that the residents in the Engle Business District the Kam Lake Industrial Area or the Grace Lake area would then go to the multiplex, and if another area was impacted, they would also be going to the multiplex. So we would be looking at it stage-by-stage, but for now, it’s an evacuation alert,” says Mayor Alty.
19:49 – Minister Thompson says it is still his understanding no structures have been lost in Fort Smith.
19:48 – Mayor Alty is asked how the plan will change if the Yellowknife Multiplex – currently the planned evacuation centre – is also at risk of fire.
“So the multiplex is selected because it’s a structure that’s non-combustible. There’s low vegetation around it, and the building would be protected by sprinklers. But again, if anything changed, we would work with the the territorial and federal government on further action,” says Alty.
19:45 – Mayor Alty clarified the Kam Lake Business District DOES NOT include Hall Crescent.
Read more about the evacuation alert for western Yellowknife here.
19:39 – NNSL asks how the city will evacuate if a city-wide evacuation was necessary. Mayor Alty’s response in full:
“If there was a need to escalate [the alert] to an order, then residents would be moving to the Multiplex or other areas of town and we’d be working with ECC if we had to and the rest of the government and probably the federal government if we had to escalate the orders to other areas of town.
“So for now, the focus is on the firebreaks, monitoring the fire situation, the alerts in place so residents of those areas can be ready with anything they need.
“And then if the alerts have to expand or if the order has to be put in place, then we’ll be working with the territorial governments and if need be the federal government.”
19:36 – We are getting a large volume of messages. Sorry that we can’t respond to everyone, we’re bringing you the most important updates here as a priority.
19:36 – “Something that’s really important in wildfire management is the natural role of fire in the environment, and the fire history in the area in the area which the Behchokǫ̀/Yellowknife fire is burning. We’ve put out 61 fires in that area in the past few decades or so. And that was 61 times that natural fire was not on the landscape there.
“This was as a result of aggressive suppression tactics that that led to a disruption in the natural process of fire in the boreal forest, which is a necessary part. And it’s widely acknowledged in Canada that these sorts of these sorts of suppressive measures have led to larger and more catastrophic fires .
“There’s very little fire history in the area. And as a result of that, the built-up fuel in the area, that the built-up fuel in the area means that those fires are burning hotter, they’re burning stronger, and they’re much more difficult to manage,” says Mike Westwick, a fire information officer.
19:32 – Yellowknife has revised its evacuation alert from “Kam Lake” to “Kam Lake Industrial Area.”
19:31 – As far as Mayor Alty knows, this is the first time an evacuation alert has been issued for Yellowknife.
19:30 – Minister Thompson adds that they are looking at “options A, B, C, and D … It’s looking at a variety of options as we move forward.”
19:27 – Cabin Radio asks how confident the City of Yellowknife is in its potential shelter in place plan.
Mayor Alty says they are monitoring the situation closely and will “update or pivot” the plan if need be.
19:25 – CBC asks what exactly it was about the fires that made the GNWT realize they needed more resources and options.
“It’s not that we needed the resources right now, it’s needing the resources as the fire situation changes,” Thompson says, citing how rapidly the wildfire situation can change and that this wasn’t a decision they wanted to leave until the middle of the night.
19:22 – It’s Sarah again, by the way! Ollie is working on getting a few other stories out.
19:20 – The state of emergency will give the GNWT the ability to get things on short notice, like aircraft, hotel accommodations, and equipment, says Minister Thompson.
19:16 – Mayor Rebecca Alty on the evacuation alert for Kam Lake, Grace Lake, Engle Business District: “There’ll be an evacuation centre at the multiplex IF that becomes an order. That’s an option or you can go to hotels or move in with friends and family elsewhere in the city.”
19:15 – An update from the Town of Hay River:
“There was one flight that departed Hay River today with 14 evacuees to Fort McMurray. Firesmarting has continued along the west side of Hay River in addition to the deployment of sprinkler lines. Delancey Estates has also seen firesmarting efforts. The Cat guard line continues to be widened. The military have been arriving to the Northwest Territories and will be deployed through NWT ECC. The military conducted a site inspection in Hay River today. Fire crews will continue to patrol through the night. It is anticipated that crews will be able to begin fighting the fire directly from the ground.
“Fire growth has been minimal through light winds and intermittent precipitation over the last 24 hours. An anticipated storm event is predicted for Thursday which may bring strong north winds from 40 km/h gusting to 60 km/h which has the potential to increase the velocity of the fire but also bring more rain. Operations will continue to monitor and plan accordingly.”
19:12 – Various Alberta locations are given for patients moving south from Yellowknife, as we reported earlier. Some might stay in the NWT but be moved elsewhere, the health minister says.
19:10 – Here’s our full story on the evacuation alert in western Yellowknife.
19:09 – Shane Thompson says there are “quickly changing needs” on the ground. He still has the 20-km figure for how far away the fire is. Not sure how old that figure is. We expect an NWT Fire update at 8pm (or possibly later in this conference).
19:06 – The GNWT press conference begins. I omitted earlier to include the city stating, in issuing its alert, that there is a “real potential threat to public safety.”
18:54 – The CBC is carrying the 7pm press conference live. Text updates here.
18:50 – That being said, John Vaillant is not an expert on Yellowknife, its conditions right now, and this specific fire, and he readily acknowledges that. The article coming up is required reading, though, if you live in Yellowknife. It’ll be presented alongside the mayor’s interview earlier today, to give you all possible context.
18:46 – I need time to transcribe my interview with John Vaillant, who wrote the book Fire Weather about the Fort McMurray fire in 2016, but the short version is that he thinks some of the decisions being made in Yellowknife bear a resemblance to decisions made in Fort McMurray, and the fire’s potential is being underestimated.
I have read John’s book. It is an extremely thorough book that took years of research. I do not take anything John says about fire behaviour and fire response lightly.
18:43 – Yellowknife just issued an evacuation alert for Kam Lake, Grace Lake and the Engle Business District.
“Residents will be given as much advance notice as possible prior to evacuation; however, you may receive limited notice due to changing conditions. Residents should be prepared of a potential need to evacuate your premises or property on short notice should it be necessary.”
18:25 – I’m in the middle of a relatively sobering interview with a man who conducted an incredibly thorough post-mortem on the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016. He sees echoes in 2023. More will follow this evening.
We also have the 7pm GNWT press conference coming up.
17:56 – Continuing the feel-good theme of shoutouts amid the smoke and flame, we just had an email praising home and cabin owners along the Ingraham Trail for their “very creative and effective ways to get structure protection (sprinklers and pumps) on their cabins and homes.”
“I am so impressed with the way people have promptly found solutions – pumps and hoses and sprinklers – to protect their structures, noting that GNWT resources are taxed and store shelves are empty of supplies,” the email notes. “There have been businesses in town that have lent out supplies and equipment at no cost, with no questions asked to folks in search of equipment, notably Ollerhead Engineering and Aurora Geoscience. It makes me very proud of the people that live here and speaks to their character in these anxious times.”
17:53 – You will recall, by the way, that yesterday the GNWT said it didn’t need a state of emergency because it had access to all the resources necessary. Pretty sure that’ll be a question at the 7pm press conference.
17:51 – From Smith’s Landing First Nation: “Smith’s Landing First Nation would like to thank Adam McNab from Fort Smith Protective Services for ensuring that everyone, whether in town or on-reserve had the ability to leave the community when the situation became unbearable. We recognize the emotional toll these situations have on emergency personnel, and while we could see the long hours and stress on Adam, he did not falter. Thank you Adam.”
Officials in all NWT communities have been nothing but helpful to us as reporters this summer, despite intensely difficult circumstances, for which we’re grateful.
17:48 – This is not an official update and we are in the peak burning period of the day, but I do note that none of the satellite resources at my disposal show significant fire growth toward Yellowknife today, yet.
NWT Fire will have more later. Theirs will be the final word, satellite imagery can only go so far.
17:44 – At the moment, it’s not clear what actions the GNWT will take through declaring a state of emergency. The minister, in this case Shane Thompson, essentially has powers on a grander scale to do what is already happening in Yellowknife – acquire people, tools, equipment or land to get more done.
The measure will last for 14 days then must either be dropped or renewed. During Covid, a state of emergency was renewed for months on end, as you will no doubt recall.
(This update fixes incorrect time stamps below, apologies. Someone book me an eye test.)
17:38 – The GNWT, declaring a state of emergency, writes that doing so will give ministers the power “to acquire and deploy the necessary resources to support the management of this unprecedented wildfire season, and protect the health and safety of Northwest Territories residents.”
17:36 – The NWT has declared a state of emergency. More follows.
17:30 – There’ll be a GNWT press conference at 7pm – “an update on the wildfire situation in the Northwest Territories, the ongoing response to the wildfires, and resulting evacuations.”
Again, we can’t stream live but I will post key updates here as we go.
17:26 – Next Hay River update expected at 6:30pm. At a Parks Canada media briefing a little while ago there wasn’t much that Parks and the town didn’t cover earlier in the day, I’m told by our reporter.
17:25 – Yellowknives Dene First Nation councillor election forums scheduled for this week are cancelled. Rescheduled for next week.
17:23 – It astounds me, smoke-wise, that some outdoor sports are going ahead tonight in Yellowknife. (Equally, probably fair to say people could use a distraction.)
17:21 – The NWT highway conditions page, which understandably needed to go for a lie down in a darkened room earlier this afternoon, is now back online. Always my preferred place to go to be certain of highway info.
17:11 – It’s Ollie, I’m back. I got told off at the pet store for taking two bags of dog food. One-bag limit in place. Bad look for a wildfire reporter, that.
16:38 – Sarah here again – we just saw that the evacuation flight out of Hay River has been pushed back to 5:30pm, so residents who want to be on that flight still have a few minutes to get to the airport.
16:38 – Back shortly, off to pick up dog food.
(She gets hangry, you see.)
16:37 – From the NWT Power Corporation: “NTPC staff were able to safely enter the community to check on the power plant. The generator continues to run well, powering the water treatment plant and the recreation centre as well as other community infrastructure. It is important to remember that the situation can change very quickly depending on the behaviour of the fire. We will continue our efforts to maintain partial power in Fort Smith as long as we can do it safely.”
16:35 – More from Emily on Yellowknife’s hospital scaling back some services and some patients and care residents being moved south, in what the health authority says is a precautionary measure.
16:29 – Justin Trudeau, posting on what we must sadly now call X: “My heart breaks for the people of the Northwest Territories, who are dealing with devastating wildfires. On Saturday, we approved the territory’s request for federal assistance and the Canadian Armed Forces are mobilizing to provide support – we’ll continue to be here for you.”
I know people have their views on our prime minister but I’ll say this for him: he uses an N-dash appropriately.
16:24 – April was not a slow month by the way, we’re talking well over half a million views to pages (in a territory of around 40,000 people). I only go back that far because the figures since have been significantly higher. And this month is already a record by far. (The problem with news statistics is they’re only ever large numbers when bad things happen.)
16:16 – Update for people interested in the impact on our coverage of Meta’s ban on Facebook and Instagram news.
In the past two days (Meta ban) we’ve had as much traffic to our news pages as we had in the whole of April (no Meta ban).
It’s a stupid ban, it’s immensely frustrating for our audience and it’s dangerous right now, clearly. I am not massively impressed with any of the parties involved (Meta, feds, larger news organizations). But the figures – and the lineup of screengrabs of our reporting that I see on my personal social channels – suggest to me that our audience has figured out how to get news without Meta having anything to do with it.
And for that, thank you. I have seen all the cheerleading and sharing of tips and helping going on across social media. You, reading this, have absolutely led the way in getting our updates in front of as many people as possible, and I thank from the bottom of my heart every single reader for doing that. People in news underestimate their audiences. Thank you for not just sitting there and accepting as fact a stupid and dangerous ban.
16:15 – Do you ever have one of those days when it’s suddenly just 4:15pm?
16:14 – The Giant Mine remediation team has received a request from the GNWT to free up its resources for firefighting and fire defence work outside Yellowknife.
“There are resources associated with the Giant Mine Remediation Project and the project is willing to support firefighting activities. We are in the process of assessing what equipment and resources are available, and we are taking steps to ensure support can be deployed as appropriate and in keeping with the project’s own safety requirements,” the project team just told us.
16:11 – The Town of Hay River has an evacuation flight leaving for Fort McMurray at 4:30pm.
16:06 – From NWT Fire re Hay River and Fort Smith: “Fire is not expected to reach either community today. Visibility remains very poor across the region, which is hampering crew activities and grounding aircraft.”
16:03 – Chief of Smith’s Landing First Nation Thaidene Paulette says he made it safely to Fort Chipewyan and is doing well.
“I’ve seen some pretty horrific video, photos,” he says. “My heart goes out to everybody involved.”
He urges people to have compassion, patience and understanding.
16:02 – I posted earlier that there are going to be a lot of precautionary measures going on. That’s what the below updates are. I know there is a lot of information coming in, and most of it is stuff Yellowknife residents are less used to than smaller communities (we are not normally the ones doing precautionary anything). I don’t think any of that represents an evolution on the earlier “increased risk” update.
15:53 – Asked what the plan is for Yellowknife’s jail, a Department of Justice spokesperson told us: “The Corrections Service is committed to the health and safety of the inmates in our care and we can confirm that there is an evacuation plan in place. The Corrections Service is prepared to respond to an emergency if needed.”
Asked if said plan had been activated in any form, the department stated: “For the safety and security of our inmates and staff, we cannot provide any details on our emergency plans.”
15:52 – Further to our Rebecca Alty interview earlier, here’s her diagram of the planned fire break and sprinkler defence network. More on this coming soon.
15:49 – This is new from the NWT’s health authority. Stanton intensive care “will begin ramp down of services … as a precautionary measure to minimize the number of complex patients who would require transfer in the event of a worsening fire situation in the Yellowknife area.”
Extended care patients are being transferred south. Surgeries “reduced to urgent and emergent cases only.”
Emily will have more shortly. The full notice is here.
The health authority repeats about 57 times in the course of the notice that these actions are “preparatory, and not being undertaken because of any new information or increased level of threat to the community of Yellowknife.”
15:36 – The UNW and PSAC are giving $150,000 to the United Way NWT evacuee fund (on top of $60,000 earlier this summer).
15:30 – I have noted the confusion between the GNWT (“leave GP and head for St Albert if you can”) and Grande Prairie’s website (“only divert to St Albert if you’re not already here,” to paraphrase). We’re working on it. Frankly, if you’re in Grande Prairie and they say you can stay, stay. We are seeking clarity, though.
15:22 – Hello, it’s Ollie. Thanks to Sarah for stepping in while I was interviewing Rebecca Alty.
Lots of questions coming in from people acting like it’s a matter of time till we’re in a 20,000-person convoy south or lining up at the airport for what would presumably be the largest airlift since the Second World War. I really don’t know that we’re getting that far, not least because the logistics of those things are mind-boggling. Sure as heck not ruling anything out, but we are not yet at the stage of selecting a seat for your dog on a mercy flight Boeing 747. (Can I say, right here right now, that pets should be banned from hogging the window seats. K?)
When I was younger, we had a show in the UK called Crimewatch. They showed CCTV footage and re-enactments to help catch people suspected of particularly violent or serious crimes. The host of the show always ended each one with the same warm smile to the camera as he said: “Don’t have nightmares.”
The underlying message was: “Yes, there is a chance something pretty bad could happen to you, but it probably won’t, so don’t devote your entire night to worrying that the guy with the baseball bat from the first five minutes of the show is coming to your house tonight.”
We’re at the same point here. You have all seen the possible outcomes, you need only look at Maui, never mind Hay River or Fort Smith. But the gap between possible and probable is a fairly large one that I personally, based on the information in front of me, do not think has been crossed.
Naturally, as more information comes in, you’ll be the first to get it – and keep on re-assessing as we go.
15:05 – We’ve had lots of people writing in what is the plan for their pets if an evacuation were to happen in Yellowknife. Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland shared these GNWT graphics which will give you a few ideas, and we’re also going to reach out to Vets Without Borders to see if they have anything to add.
14:55 – That’s it for our live interview with Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty. Full story coming soon.
14:53 – “Please avoid the sandpits, Deh Cho Boulevard, all those areas where we’re currently working,” Alty asks residents, saying they want to keep residents safe and allow crews to work as fast as possible.
“Stay clear the area , they need to work, and they’re using a lot of heavy equipment.”
14:50 – Ollie asks about the state of readiness the city is advocating for and how it differs practically from an official evacuation notice. Alty says the difference is that a notice signifies the city would be a step closer to an evacuation alert.
However, she says she’s not sure that there would be much of a difference between what we’re currently doing versus the next stage (an evacuation notice).
14:46 – Trigger points for evacuation notices, alerts, and orders continue to be dependent on wind and weather, and how those things affect the speed of the fire, says Alty.
14:45 – “Variables change a lot … however we know the fire is approaching from the west side, so Engle, Kam Lake, and Grace Lake. So if there was a need, the city in consultation with ECC would issue and evacuation alert, and an alert means be ready to leave if need be,” says Alty.
If an alert turned into an order, the Yellowknife Multiplex would open as an evacuation centre for residents in the west end of the city.
14:41 – “The risk to Yellowknife and Ndılǫ has risen since yesterday. However, the fire is not expected to reach us in the coming days, and they’re doing work with air tankers and helicopters, as much as they can to, to try to slow that growth, and then we’re working on the ground here to do those firebreaks,” says Alty.
14:36 – After the first priority areas for firebreaks are done, they will start work on secondary ones, such as behind Parker Park.
14:34 – Ollie asks Mayor Alty what the most important updates are. She says she’ll be posting soon about firebreak work that has been completed as of noon today, so we’ll watch for this.
Twelve companies are working on the firebreaks right now.
The city also plans to add more sprinklers to Grace Lake South.
14:26 – Our live interview with Yellowknife’s mayor is coming up. Listen here. Sarah will post updates from it to this live page.
14:25 – This is a great update from Sam Stokell in St Albert, who has great things to say about the setup there. Remember, St Albert is now the evac centre, not Grande Prairie. Anyone en route to GP or already in GP but able to move is asked to go to St Albert.
“We just arrived at the St Albert reception centre and it was such a warm welcome – really well organized and friendly people,” Sam writes. “Papers with lots of information about reimbursements, free hotel stays, etc. Lots of toys for kids, snacks, and even free bouncy castles! Just in case people in Edmonton want more information about the reception centre.”
14:22 – From a gentleman named Dave: “I’d like to give a huge shoutout to my sister Nicole. We were supposed to come visit her on a siblings trip but had to cancel due to the fires. Love how you keep things on the lighter side. Hopefully she sees this, can’t wait to come up and visit!”
(Look, if we can’t do the occasional family shoutout in a wildfire live text, ask yourself what the world is coming to, hmm? Also thanks for the kind words, Dave.)
14:20 – The Town of Hay River states: “Can people that evacuated to Yellowknife please call 867-444-0618 to let them know you are in the city? We are trying to organize a flight from there to an evacuation centre in Alberta.”
14:18 – YKDFN says the Dettah brush-cutting crew has switched to doing the same work in Ndılǫ as a precautionary measure.
14:11 – Angela Balsillie got in touch earlier to say she is advised Buffalo will fly up pet crates or cages from Edmonton to Yellowknife tonight if you need one as a precautionary measure and cannot get one in the city.
Angela advised me that the number to call if you can acquire a crate and want Buffalo to carry it is 780-455-1677.
13:59 – Yellowknife’s Overlander Sports Marathon scheduled for August 20 has been cancelled.
13:55 – The Town of Hay River has circulated these images from the town and the airlift.
I think the airlift is going to go down as one of the biggest disaster relief operations the world never saw, given the communications outage at the time.
13:52 – Mayor Rebecca Alty will be live on Cabin Radio with me at 2:30pm for a Yellowknife update. (I booked this ages ago, it is not an unscheduled appearance, steady now.) Listen here.
13:44 – A lot is happening. I note an uptick in conspiracy theory in my inbox. I think it is fairly sensible to expect an increase in precautionary activity around Yellowknife (frankly, if you’re not on top of your own personal precautionary measures at this point, that may be an error). Do not jump to conclusions or dwell on that, it’s people making sure they have a plan.
Once I have formal confirmation of a few measures I understand government agencies are taking, it’ll appear here. But it is fairly straightforward and not run-for-the-hills stuff. We have no hills, it’s been a significant gripe of mine for years.
13:36 – Actually it’s more important than that, the message tells evacuees also in Grande Prairie to leave and go to St Albert if you can.
Again, from the GNWT: “The designated reception centre for NWT evacuees in Alberta is being moved to St Albert, Alberta. Any southbound vehicle heading to Grande Prairie who has not yet arrived in Grande Prairie, please re-route to St Albert now. Do not continue to Grande Prairie.
“For any evacuees who were received and set up in Grande Prairie, if you have a vehicle, please proceed to the designated evacuee centre in St Albert.”
That centre’s address: Servus Place at 400 Campbell Road, St Albert. Use the south entrance.
13:34 – Important update for evacuees heading to Grande Prairie. In a word: Don’t. Head to St Albert. More from the GNWT here.
13:13 – In case it’s not clear, Fort Smith and Hay River remain in extreme jeopardy even though the worst did not happen overnight. Virtually everyone is out of Fort Smith and it’s a matter of hoping the weather helps, or at least doesn’t actively hinder efforts to preserve the community. In Hay River, the mayor sounded genuinely terrified at the thought of how to help hundreds of people still in the town, with no communication tools, if the fires close in.
Yellowknife is not at that stage but we’ve just heard the risk has increased since yesterday. So well over half the territory’s population, right now, is feeling this in some way or another.
Our own staff are affected, too, and my personal thanks to everyone here for doing so much.
13:10 – We have updated our Fort Smith article with the latest from Parks Canada. The overnight rain is not expected to calm the fire for long, is the short version.
13:05 – Here is my regular thank-you to everyone who is sending coffee and gift cards, signing up to make monthly donations and sending in nice messages. We are going to keep these live pages going for as long as there’s a significant threat.
12:53 – Nipping out for a leg stretch, a can of soda and to scream silently into a relentless fiery abyss one sec, updates resume shortly.
12:40 – Shoot to Score Hockey has cancelled its NWT camp next week. (Thanks, Danielle.)
12:39 – Big travel news, Highway 1 just reopened from Alberta through past Enterprise and Kakisa to the Highway 3 intersection and beyond.
“Highway 1 from Alberta/NWT border to km 140 has re-opened. We are still advising travellers to avoid non-essential travel on our highways at this time,” the Department of Infrastructure wrote.
“The situation is changing quickly and highways will close if it is deemed unsafe. Travellers should also check 511 Alberta for updates on road conditions in that province at this time.”
12:36 –Emily’s full update on the fire west of Yellowknife and the Ingraham Trail fire. Important reading.
12:16 – Two things I’m mentioning for absolutely no reason at all: Cabin Radio does have FM infrastructure, and the FM frequency we applied for is 93.9.
On an entirely separate note, if communications via internet ever does go down in Yellowknife – again, I have nothing to suggest it will – emergency information can always be readily accessed by turning to your FM radio.
12:15 – Dettah fire update is no real change compared to the others. We also got an Inuvik fire update, same, no fresh concern.
12:13 – Full coverage from me of Hay River’s press conference. The message, a message that nobody who needs it can hear: get out.
12:09 – Fire ZF011 update north of the Ingraham Trail, from NWT Fire – key point is evacuation order downgraded to alert.
“We have seen less progression than was possible on this fire. Therefore, the evacuation order has been downgraded to an evacuation alert for north Prosperous Lake, north Prelude Lake, and all of River Lake for now to allow individuals to return and run their sprinklers. Stay up to date as this may change quickly with north winds coming.”
Here’s the full map first, then some zoomed-in views:
West of Yellowknife:
North of Yellowknife:
11:59 – More on fire ZF015 from NWT Fire:
“Significant fire behaviour expected today – with visible smoke and falling ash likely in Yellowknife, Ndılǫ and Dettah. Air tankers and helicopters will hit the east side of this fire with as many missions as possible given visibility to slow the growth of this fire eastwards.
“Missions yesterday were challenged by the heavy smoke, causing poor visibility. Visibility was poor at fire this morning as aircraft made their way there as well.
“The City of Yellowknife and the wildfire team have been working together to establish protections, including fuel breaks and sprinkler systems in priority areas surrounding the city.”
11:55 – Here is a Yellowknife update, arriving just now, on Fire ZF015 west of the city:
“The fire progressed since last update – moving roughly 7 km to the east since last update. The fire is not expected to reach Yellowknife in the coming days, however, risk to the city and Ndılǫ has risen since yesterday.”
11:47 – I am being bombarded by requests for Yellowknife wildfire information. I don’t have a concrete update to give you but it’ll appear here the moment I see it.
I definitely don’t have anything in front of me to suggest any meaningful change this morning so far. Stand by for more as I receive it.
11:42 – Dettah will hold another wildfire consultation at the Chief Drygeese Centre from 5:30pm on Wednesday.
11:31 – The problem, of course, is that I assume none of the 500 people left in Hay River have internet access to read these updates. It is going to have to be delivered door to door, even if a few people have Starlink etc.
11:30 – Kandis Jameson: “We sent probably another 100 people out of the community yesterday but it’s slow. and that scares me to death. I don’t know how people would tell me they’re even here, right? If I’ve got seniors at home that are hunkering down, and no idea they’re there.”
Hay River went door to door on Sunday and will do so again today.
11:28 – Mayor Jameson in Hay River: “The last resort is boat.”
She says trying to run the evacuation with no communications is “one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done in my life.”
It sounds like there is no time frame for a communications fix.
11:27 – More from the mayor:
“It is bad enough for the people that have to be here that are trying to protect what we have. If I have to get them out at the last minute, that’s going to be tough enough, without a whole bunch of people in the community looking for help – and it’s too late.”
11:25 – Listening to the mayor, if you’re in Hay River and don’t absolutely have to be, I would definitely be heading to the airport. It sounds like it’s on the verge of life-and-death if the fire shifts.
“The biggest concern I have is, if this fire starts to run at our community, of course we’re going to lose our airport. We have not had eyes on the fire,” said Jameson.
“People need to understand that we’ve got a bit of a breather here. We’re going to get planes in here and get people out, but they need to get to the airport.”
11:22 – The mayor says she thinks 500 people are still in Hay River. She sounded, frankly, devastated when she said that. I asked her to explain how she feels about 500 people still being in town.
“From the heart? I’m very disappointed. I am. I say that cautiously because I know that there are so many people that have left, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart but those that are in town … I know a lot of people are just at home hunkering down, and it really is life-threatening to be here – and it’s life-threatening to my first responders if I have to pull them off.
“I just don’t know how, if something went sideways with somebody in the community and there was an emergency, how they would contact us.”
11:17 – The big message from Mayor of Hay River Kandis Jameson: “I can’t encourage our residents enough that if you don’t have to be here, you should be looking at alternative measures to get out of this community. If you can leave, please leave.
“If things change and this fire starts running out our community, we have no way to let people know.”
11:10 – More from Emily on Jagmeet Singh urging the feds to send more support to the NWT.
10:59 – Hay River press conference is now starting at 11:15.
10:54 – I’ve just seen a Facebook post about fire crews in Fort Smith running low on cigarettes, among other things, which seems… anyway.
(I get it. If I smoked, I feel like the middle of fighting an epic wildfire outside my home community would not be the time to quit.)
10:52 – This week’s speed skating camp in Yellowknife has been cancelled because of the fires. I can’t remember if we reported it earlier but the NWT Chamber of Commerce golf tournament this week is off, too.
10:44 – Some people have set up a camp at Salt Mountain, 40 km west of Fort Smith.
Cindy Bye shared these photos with us.
10:24 – Before we get to that press conference, here’s a written update from the Town of Hay River:
“There continues to be no road access available out of Hay River. Flight details for this afternoon will be communicated when available. There are no essential services available for residents including food, gas, health or pharmacy. Crews are attempting to go door to door to encourage remaining residents to get to the airport as there is no means of communication otherwise.
“Yesterday saw little growth on the fire fronts, remaining approximately 15 kilometres from both the west and south of Hay River. The fire has crossed the river to the east but there is no danger to the Kátł’odeeche reserve.
“NWT ECC is setting up a 100-person camp and sourcing additional equipment. Dense smoke has hampered all aerial efforts up until now. More crews have arrived for structural protection work and to set up firesmart and sprinkler systems. The fire guard to the west of Hay River is being doubled in width and extended southward to Delancy.”
10:10 – Hay River is now holding a media briefing between 11am and noon. I think it’ll be a phone conference call only since their communications access, as we know, is minimal. So we’ll do what we can to get information from that call to this live page as quickly as possible, but I don’t think we can air it live.
10:04 – Expecting a Hay River update in the near future. By the way, the power just went out in Dettah (not wildfire-related as far as I can tell). Power corp expects it back online within the hour.
09:47 – Here’s Sarah’s full report on the morning conditions in Fort Smith and an overnight fire update.
09:40 – Parks Canada says its next Fort Smith fire update will come at 11am MT.
09:38 – Highway 3 just reopened.
09:35 – NDP leader Jagmeet Singh just called on Ottawa to “provide more support for the Northwest Territories as they deal with extreme wildfires.”
In a press release, he was quoted as saying: “While we welcome and thank the Canadian Forces coming to help, the federal government must act to ensure people are getting all the support they need to get through this difficult time.
“The Northwest Territories needs meaningful action from the federal government to address the climate crisis fuelling extreme weather disasters and more support for front-line workers, residents and communities dealing with the impact.”
09:32 – Not sure how many people own FM radios in Yellowknife these days (beyond their vehicles) but if you don’t, always a handy thing to have in a crisis.
09:24 – From Yellowknife veterinarian Michelle Tuma last night:
“We are working hard to figure out an evac plan for remaining pets in the impacted areas. Nothing is certain yet, but I just want people to know that we are trying our best and we want to help! There are a lot of obstacles to get around, and we are grateful for the people who have stepped up and helped out so far! Stay tuned for hopefully something more concrete developing soon.”
09:23 – Dana Fergusson just broadcast a live video from Fort Smith. It’s good news so far.
The ground is “really wet, lots of moisture” after rain last night, she said, with fog this morning.
“We have really favourable winds. The whole community of Fort Smith has not had any structure damage, has not had any fire in the community, and has not had any destruction here at all. We are all safe,” Fergusson said.
“The fire has shifted and is more on the park side, going kind-of south. It jumped the highway right at Salt Mountain and continued to go down south, parallel to the community.
“The guys on the ground have been doing a fantastic job of fire breaks. Sprinklers are everywhere. Nothing has burned: no homes, no infrastructure, no community building.”
09:20 – Grande Prairie tells us there are now more than 700 evacuees from the NWT staying there. A reminder that St Albert is now recommended as the best destination if you haven’t already found somewhere to be.
09:19 – New from the NWT Power Corporation about its staff and facilities in Fort Smith:
“Yesterday afternoon, staff remaining at the power plant made a strategic withdrawal to reassess safety conditions. The team remained in the area, sheltering at a safe location until they were able to receive clearer information about fire conditions.
“One large generator continues to operate, supplying power to key infrastructure such as the water treatment plant and the recreation centre. Enough fuel is on hand to last approximately 4-5 days if the fire does not disrupt the electricity distribution system or the generator does not experience mechanical issues.
“Operators attempted to re-enter the community this morning but were turned back by heavy smoke. They will continue their efforts to return to the plant when it is safe to do so.”
09:18 – Scott writes in to say Bridgefy is a similar app to Briar that also works on iPhone. Again, I share this on the basis that if you have nothing else immediately to do on the wildfire prep front, may as well install apps that might prove handy later.
09:11 – A few people have written in to mention the Briar phone app, which uses Bluetooth to spread messages through nearby people. Here’s what Joel wrote just now:
“It may be worth mentioning for people to download and use the Briar messenger app if they have an Android phone, it was designed to be used in emergency situations and can send messages in offline mode through phone Bluetooth connections. Its range is comparatively limited, but anything is better than nothing if phone service drops completely.”
Can’t hurt to have it, just in case. (Note that it appears there’s no iPhone version.)
08:50 – From Smith’s Landing First Nation: “Anyone who has not had a chance to register with an evac centre can call the RMWB pulse line: 1-780-743-7000 or 1-800-973-9663. This is meant for people who have gone to places other than Fort McMurray, High Level, Peace River or Grande Prairie. Works anywhere in the province.”
08:38 – I’m hoping to get a Hay River update shortly after 10am once staff are out of morning briefings, I’ll have more from Fort Smith as soon as we can get it, and we’ll have a live interview with Yellowknife’s mayor this afternoon to get an update on fire breaks, the fire’s progress and the city’s thinking.
08:34 – Here’s my very unofficial wind forecast, based on the information available from our weather page. NWT Fire will have a more reliable forecast that we’ll bring to you as soon as it’s available.
Fort Smith – A calm day, light wind pushing north then later to the east again.
Hay River – Winds a little stronger than in Fort Smith, perhaps 15 km/h, strongest winds look to be northwesterly (i.e. pushing to the southeast).
Yellowknife – Light-to-moderate wind (up to 20 km/h later in the day) pushing the fire in the direction of the city.
08:24 – A reminder that Grande Prairie is asking any evacuees not yet already there to head for St Albert instead because space is limited. Here’s our report on that from last night and here’s Grande Prairie’s evacuee info page, which has St Albert info.
08:20 – Fort Smith’s air quality index peaked above 1,000 this morning. For reference, any value above 300 is considered “health warning of emergency conditions.” The scale is open-ended, so theoretically the numbers go up and up until you’re breathing pure carbon. I had previously not seen a value above 800 anywhere in the NWT, but I haven’t been watching 24/7.
08:15 – I just spoke by phone with Fort Smith town councillor Dianna Korol, who has been staying in touch with the remaining people in Fort Smith.
There is so far no morning update from the town, Korol said, which she’s taking as positive news – it most likely means people there are getting some vital sleep.
“It was a win yesterday,” Korol said, in terms of the fire’s behaviour and the fact Fort Smith wasn’t reached earlier. “We’re nowhere near out of the woods, but the military has landed in Yellowknife and hopefully they’re sending a dozer crew to Smith. I think so far there’s only structure loss at Thebacha camp site, there are cabins lost there.”
According to Korol, Mayor Fred Daniels, several councillors, and at least a couple of dozen other first responders, including fire chief Adam McNab, remain in the town. They are using the brick-built federal building (“built like a bomb shelter,” as Korol described it) as a base of operations and have Starlink internet access.
07:59 – This extraordinary satellite shot shows how the wind drove fires across the NWT on Sunday. (Note: This is just Sunday’s fire behaviour, it doesn’t show Monday or today.)
07:51 – What the heck do I do with myself today, Yellowknife edition: If you’re feeling that sense of “you say we’re not under threat but I still feel a smidge threatened” (me too, and not because I doubt anyone but because it’s hardly ideal out there), things within your power to do are…
Firesmart your place. If you’re like me, maybe you nod sagely every time someone suggests this but do not actually do anything once you get home. Now is probably the time to read this page and pick stuff from it to go do
Next to that kit, put important documents and the little personal things you want to be sure stay safe
None of which has to happen only when an evacuation is imminent and we’re in chaos mode. Right now, an evacuation does not appear to be imminent. It’s a good time to get the above done, and if you’re like me, might help you somehow feel a bit more zen, not less, about things.
07:45 – More images from Sean Fowler of military reinforcements arriving in Yellowknife last night.
07:26 – Not to overemphasize the “firesmart your property now” stuff but while I’m writing this, I can see my partner posting on Facebook to find a whipper-snipper and leafblower. She has posted that she can offer “copious amounts of homegrown kale in return.” Seriously, someone give her a whipper-snipper if only to get that kale out of my life.
07:21 – Janene Wilson, a consultant who works with the Smith’s Landing First Nation, writes:
“Christine Seabrook, the executive assistant for the Smith’s Landing First Nation, has been working with Councillor Karen Youngman at the evacuation centre in High Level. They have been registering members and providing updates. The High Level camp is at full capacity and members are being sent to Grande Prairie and Edmonton.
“Members who were flown out of the community are in Fort McMurray. Chief Paulette was one of the members who travelled by boat to Fort Chipewyan yesterday. The First Nation’s Facebook page will be updated during the day as more information arrives regarding hotel locations and fire updates.”
07:12 – A reminder that while we don’t have formal confirmation of the extent of the damage in Enterprise, south of Hay River, we do now have many photos showing what can only be described as devastation of that community. Our hearts go out to residents. We were planning on sending two reporters to the bunnock tournament there next month, and we never send two reporters to anything.
07:07 – What happens to Cabin Radio’s updates if we lose internet in Yellowknife? We’ve been working on a backup plan. If we lose internet access (currently there is no suggestion this will happen but we have to be prepared, eh?), we have come up with a few solutions that will keep people updated. So fear not. We will find ways to get information to you in Yellowknife.
(I can hear people reading this who don’t live here thinking: “You’re a radio station, just use your FM signal!” Guys… that’s a long story.)
06:58 – Chelsea just sent this list of Fort Smith shoutouts. I am not sure if the below are still in Fort Smith as the message last night was very clear – everybody was being asked to get out, even the fire crews.
“Brandon Freund of Fort Smith deserves recognition for staying behind to check on people’s animals and loved ones. He’s knocked on countless doors and done home checks on people and their animals to give those evacuated peace of mind and be a contact point between families,” Chelsea writes.
“Colin Fradsham of Fort Smith was doing the same before he was also evacuated as the safety risk got too high. Many of us would still be wondering if our loved ones are in the community had they not gone and checked every home that was asked to be checked.
“Anna Gervais, owner of Northern Hound Supply, and her fiancé stayed behind to care for and check on all animals who couldn’t be taken in the initial evacuation.”
06:49 – This video, by the way, shows hail (of all things) landing in Hay River last night.
06:47 – The big thing is going to be getting an on-the-ground update from Fort Smith but I also don’t know how many, if any people are actually on the ground. Even first responders were being pulled back last night, though the good news is a little rain fell. There were conflicting forecasts about whether the fire would reach Fort Smith. Satellite imagery suggests it didn’t but, even if that’s the case, the fire is going to start the day incredibly close and conditions will only get hotter from there. We’ll do everything we can to find reliable information.
06:32 – New from us: listen to our full interview with Premier Caroline Cochrane if you missed the live broadcast yesterday, or read the transcript. Audio and transcript are both here.
06:25 – And lastly, overnight hot-spots for the lakes above the Ingraham Trail. To use the map yourself – it’s called Firms, aka the Fire Information for Resource Management System – click here.
06:22 – Satellite hot-spots as of 4:10am west of Yellowknife (I’ll do an Ingraham Trail one in a moment).
The mapping software comes with a distance-measuring tool that suggests the head of the fire is about 20 km west of Yellowknife Golf Club as the crow flies. I assume crows and wildfires are fairly similar in approaches to travel. Note that NWT Fire will have an official and more reliable estimate for the fire’s distance from the city later.
06:21 – This is the same map (see 06:19) for Fort Smith and Fort Fitzgerald. Again, you’re looking at satellite hot-spots as of 4:10am.
06:19 – This is the overnight hot-spot map for Hay River. Thank you to the kind soul who emailed me yesterday to show me you can change settings in Firms (the mapping system) to show the age of each hot-spot. In the below map, if it’s yellow or orange, it burned a little earlier. Red spots are the most recent ones, which helps to track fire progress.
This image shows hot-spots as of 4:10am today.
06:14 – Highways update to get us going: Highway 3 just closed west of Yellowknife over visibility issues. We had a reporter go through the highway in the dead of night last night and I’m told it was not a relaxing experience – imagery from that to follow once they wake up.
No change to Highway 1, Highway 2 or Highway 5: east of Kakisa to the Alberta border and Fort Smith, you can forget it. No access to Hay River.
06:12 – Stand by for all the overnight updates I can give you, recognizing that we are still in a communications outage across most of the South Slave so the information we have is spotty at best.
06:06 – Good morning, it’s Ollie. I let the dog out and by the time I came back in (three seconds), I felt like I’d been smoking 40 a day since birth.