Helicopters bucket fire ZF015 on August 21, 2023. Photo: GNWT
The battle against the Hay River fire is continuing, as is the uncertainty for thousands of evacuees stranded outside the Northwest Territories.
Throughout Monday, we’re bringing you updates on this page about the territory’s wildfire crisis: the fires themselves, how governments are responding, and supports for people displaced from their homes.
If you are offering assistance and don’t mind having details that you send us (including contact info) published, email that offer here – please also send information updates for evacuees using this link
To tell us about someone amazing who deserves a shoutout for what they’re doing or did, email us here
18:11 – From Aastha: “It was important to get the community together, just to check on each other.” In Alberta, NWT evacuees are finding spaces to reconnect.
18:09 – From Sarah: Chicken alfredo, BBQ pork, beef tenderloin – that’s the menu for firefighters protecting Yellowknife. The kitchen? A specialized Salvation Army trailer.
18:07 – From Odette Auger at Windspeaker.com: “If there’s something CKLB has always done and leaned into, it’s communities.” Here’s how the NWT’s Indigenous-owned radio station covered August’s evacuations.
18:05 – From Aastha: Yellowknife musician Layne Rybchinski is hosting jam nights in Edmonton to bring northern evacuees together.
18:03 – From Sarah: You’ve probably seen the NWT Strong logo everywhere. Meet the man who designed it and is now selling products to raise money for United Way NWT.
20:01 – Now let’s take a moment to look at some of the positive stories we’ve published in the past couple of weeks
19:56 – From Julie Green, health and social services minister, on Twitter earlier today (I refuse to call it X):
“Climate change isn’t just environmental; it’s a public health crisis. Rising temps, air pollution, and extreme weather events pose a threat to our physical & mental well-being. Let’s invest in sustainable solutions for a healthier, resilient future.” #ClimateCrisis#nwtpoli
19:53 – From me: The NWT government increased its wildfire funding for 2023 to nearly $100 million. Some MLAs have doubts about the financial footing of the territory – and its residents.
19:40 – The team here at Cabin Radio has published quite a few stories today So I just wanted to take a moment to highlight some of those stories, in case you missed them.
19:39 – Here’s some photos that have been shared with us of fire protection work in Dettah and Ndılǫ.
19:11 – Speak of the devil (or angel in this case?) this shoutout just in from Sukhmanpreet “Sukham” Dhindsa:
“Can we please give a shoutout to all the staff who evacuated with and are taking care of all the youth who were housed at Home Base? I’d like give a special shout-out to Leesa Myers who goes above and beyond for these youth (and their babies!). You may remember Leesa from her battle with immigration (see: https://www.cbc.ca/amp/1.6744740) She has gone above and beyond to care for these youth and continues to do so. Can someone please give her Canadian citizenship already? We must keep her in Yk at all costs!”
19:09 – If there’s anyone you’d like to give a special shoutout to, send us an email with the subject line “shoutout” and we’ll include it on our dedicated NWT evacuation shoutouts page.
19:03 – Good evening everyone. Just want to take a minute to remind everyone about some callouts for stories we are currently working on if you would like to contribute:
If you’re really hurting financially right now, or you’re worried about your small business, Simona would appreciate hearing from you as we continue to investigate the supports being made available;
Megan is also compiling a playlist of the songs that are getting people through this time. If there’s a song you’d like to see included, let her know what the song is and explain why.
18:50 – Alright, I’m going to pass this over to Emily for a bit! My dogs need another walk.
18:48 – We’ve heard more good news from someone who was able to cancel an upcoming WestJet flight that was scheduled for August 31. Don’t lose hope – it sounds like the trick is to get an agent on the phone and talk to them about your situation.
18:30 – From Emily: The NWT has increased its wildfire funding for 2023 to nearly $100 million. With the added pressure of those costs, some MLAs have doubts about the financial footing of the territory – and its residents.
18:19 – I feel like this live has been a wall of text this afternoon, so here’s a photo volunteer firefighter Paul Bannister took today in Fort Smith of fellow volunteer firefighter Dave Porter working on a controlled ignition to remove burnable fuels north of Highway 5 near the ECC office.
18:15 – One of my favourite parts from Chloe’s story is how the paramedics and other remaining first responders left in Hay River are stepping up to cook for the firefighters.
While no food is being delivered to the town, there is still plenty left in the big fridges and freezers in both the correctional centre and the hospital.
One night, forestry team even barbequed steaks for everyone.
18:04 – From Chloe, who attended this afternoon’s Hay River press conference: Hay River’s mayor, Kandis Jameson, acknowledged fears that the town’s recent string of disasters could push some residents to relocate, but paid tribute to her community’s sense of community and courage.
17:30 – The NWT government expects to unveil a portal on Tuesday that will allow evacuees who drove themselves to safety to begin claiming compensation.
17:14 – We’ve heard from one person who successfully got Air Canada to give them full credit for a flight scheduled to leave Yellowknife on September 1 – so it is possible!
17:12 – Here’s Ollie’s full report on Yellowknife moving a step closer to everyone coming home, as fires ZF015 and ZF011 are declared “being held” – a downgrade from “out of control” – and the city begins work to recall some critical staff. But there’s no fixed date for everyone to come home yet, the GNWT and city each stressed.
17:03 – Monfwi MLA Jen Weyallon Armstrong’s bill to amend the Emergency Management Act to require the emergency management organization to co-ordiante with Indigenous governments and organizations has passed second reading but not gone onto third reading. It has been referred to the standing committee on government operations for further review. While many MLAs agreed with the intent of the bill and said changes are needed, they believe the matter requires a more thorough review, and the focus now should be on dealing with the ongoing wildfire crisis.
“We’ve got too much work ahead of us,” Rocky Simpson said. “We’re in the fight to save our community and other communities are in the same boat as well. And that’s where our focus has to be.”
16:59 – Sheila Bassi-Kellett, Yellowknife’s city manager, says the city has already identified the critical staff it needs to bring back first and is now working with essential local contractors and businesses to see who they need to bring back in order to provide services to the entire city again.
16:57 – The GNWT is aiming to launch the portal for the travel funding program by Tuesday afternoon. It will piggyback on the income disruption application, so people will be able to apply for both at the same time and then be paid via direct deposit.
16:45 – “People that are having problems paying their rent … we’re aware of that and we’re considering, but we don’t have any specific plans to address that at the moment,” said William MacKay, the deputy minister at the Department of Finance.
16:34 – Jay Boast reminds people to register with evacuation centre closest to you as well as fill out the GNWT’s evacuee registration form so you’ll receive reentry information.
16:31 – The North Slave has had a little rain, lower temperatures, and favourable winds over the past few days, which has helped reduce fire growth and allow fire crews to hold the Yellowknife fire, the GNWT says.
16:23 – Testart says YKDFN is “committed to finding swift and equitable solutions” to support members, explaining “the resources and systems in place were not designed to manage such a crisis of the scale, and as a result, there have been delays in providing the financial assistance that has been allocated to support our members.”
16:21 – “Safety checks by staff are done twice daily at each house in Dettah and Ndılǫ,” says Kieran Testart, Yellowknives Dene First Nation’s emergency operations director. “We can ensure our members that they have been no incidents, your homes and property are very safe.”
16:16 – “The City is asking staff from core and essential services to return home first, to join the other City staff who are here at this time. The GNWT and businesses that have been deemed essential will also begin to bring their essential staff back,” wrote Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty just now in a Facebook post.
16:12 – The City of Yellowknife just told Cabin Radio: “The City of Yellowknife has begun to contact staff who are critical to support the re-entry efforts to request they return to Yellowknife.” More information is expected shortly.
16:11 – There are fives phases of reentry, Boast says.
Your community is safe from wildfire
Your community has been checked for damage (some things might need to be fixed)
Essential personal return
Basic services are reestablished (such as healthcare, groceries, gas)
Everyone else comes back (lots of planning needed here and travel might need to be staggered)
16:06 – “We don’t have a date for when the fires will be declared under control by ECC and when it will be safe for community governments and the territory to welcome their residents,” says Jay Boast, Emergency Management Organization information officer, reminding everyone right at the start of the press conference there is a difference between a fire “being held” and “under control.”
“We are still actively battling wildfires across our territory,” he says.
16:04 – Of course Ollie already has a story written on how a wildfire burning west of Yellowknife is now “being held,” the biggest shift in the fire’s status since it was first identified in late June. Get the latest on this development here as we watch the GNWT’s press conference.
16:01 – Here’s how the GNWT defines a fire that is being held: “being held indicates that with currently committed resources, sufficient suppression action has been taken that the wildfire is not likely to spread beyond existent or predetermined boundaries under prevailing and forecasting conditions.”
15:57 – Fire ZF015 west of Yellowknife is now classified as “being held,” the NWT government says.
NWT Fire said the status change “does not mean it is safe to return.” The update came moments before a GNWT press conference was due to begin, and was almost certain to lead to questions about the timeline for a return to the city.
15:55 – The GNWT’s wildfire press conference starts at 4pm tonight (I’m so excited that it’s not at 7pm). We’ll be bringing you live text updates here in about five minutes.
15:52 – From Ollie: the Northwest Territories will go to the polls on November 14, a six-week delay brought about by wildfires forcing the evacuation of multiple communities.
15:38 – The new territorial election date is November 14, MLAs have just decided. The election period will begin on October 16. That represents a six-week delay on the old timings.
15:32 – MLAs have unanimously approved budgeting an additional $75 million for wildfire suppression efforts.
15:23 – Sarah is back, so basically I just came here to rant about Air Canada. Go about your business, everyone. Ollie out.
15:06 – This is Ollie, back in for Sarah for a bit. Emily continues to watch the legislature for us. I meanwhile am getting increasingly annoyed with Air Canada and have asked them if it’s their policy, right now, that residents cross a roadblock to board flights in Yellowknife later this week.
(It obviously is not their policy but two people, now, have contacted me to tell me that’s essentially what the airline is telling them to do, so I have gone back for a third time today to get Air Canada to come up with something useful. Ditto WestJet.)
14:32 – Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek says firefighting is not eligible for reimbursement under disaster finance assistance arrangements with the federal government.
14:28 – Wood Buffalo National Park says the northern side of the Fort Smith fire continues to be the most active.
“The distances from the fire to communities did not change yesterday except for in the Thebacha area: the fire is now 2.4 km from Thebacha,” says the Park.
14:22 – The City of Yellowknife says, “In addition to waiving late penalties for residents’ utility bills, the City of Yellowknife will not charge any late penalties for the upcoming property tax installment and final tax levy (for those who did not sign up for pre-authorized payments), due August 31st. Pre-authorized monthly payments for property taxes will continue.”
14:19 – Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek says ECC’s base budget for wildfire suppression is around $21.8 million. The GNWT’s current estimate for what this season will ultimately cost is just under $100 million.
14:15 – Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson says he believes fire suppression efforts are important and he thinks an additional $75 million is “just a start of what the ask will be.”
He says he’s also concerned the GNWT is not currently requesting additional funds for evacuees.
“Basically people are financially exhausted,” he says, noting Hay River has evacuated multiple times.
He says the GNWT needs to pressure the federal government to provide financial supports for evacuees of no less than $3,000 per adult and $1,500 for youth as a start.
He says there’s also a need to support businesses.
MLAs are being asked to focus their comments on the $75 million for wildfire suppression efforts.
14:08 – Tu-Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Richard Edjericon says many of his constituents affected by evacuation orders are also struggling financially.
“We need to step up as a government to help our people out,” he says. “My phone’s been ringing day and night dealing with all kinds of issues.”
Edjericon suggests reaching out to the Red Cross for help.
14:06 – From the Hay River press conference, we heard the focus right now remains on fighting the fire, not on planning for reentry. We’ll have a story soon with more.
14:04 – Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland says she was “quite surprised” the proposed budget increase focuses on the Department of Environment and Climate Change and does not include increases to the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment nor Department of Finance.
She says the City of Edmonton, where she is currently located, has “gone above and beyond” to try and help evacuees, but many NWT residents have had to pay out of pocket for commercial airfare and other additional costs related to evacuations, or car pooled and are not currently eligible for financial assistance being offered by the GNWT, or it is inadequate.
“A lot of people have just started to recover post-Covid,” she says, adding people from Hay River have had to evacuate three times over the past two years.
13:59 – A man accused of using heavy equipment to obstruct Fort Smith’s wildfire defence work denied wrongdoing, telling Cabin Radio the incident was a family dispute that got out of hand.
“There’s going to be a lot of lawsuits,” he said, asserting that none of the police account in a press release earlier on Monday was “proven, accurate or true.”
13:56 – Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek is discussing the supplementary estimates for operational expenditures, which propose an increase of $75 million to fund the shortfall in the fire suppression budget for this year.
“I recognize that this request is substantial and it will have an impact on the GNWT’s forecasted operating surplus. I want to assure committee that the Department of Finance is taking steps to ensure that the government remains in compliance with the fiscal responsibility policy as well as how best to mitigate the financial impacts of the wildfire season.”
The GNWT is continuing to seek federal funding to recover costs related to natural disasters.
13:55 – “We’ve got people that are asking, begging hotel managers and front desk staff for food,” says Richard Edjericon, MLA for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh, calling on the GNWT to do more for displaced residents.
13:49 – Monfwi MLA Jen Weyallon Armstrong has moved a motion for emergency debate calling on the government to ensure that Indigenous governments are involved in the GNWT’s response to end the current wildfire emergency.
13:41 – MLAs held a moment of silence for Adam Yeadon, a 25-year-old firefighter from Fort Liard who passed away while fighting fires last month.
13:38 – MLAs are now meeting in Inuvik, both virtually and in person. They are expected to discuss legislation to delay the upcoming territorial general election as well as approving funding for wildfire suppression efforts.
Speaker Frederick Blake Jr. says the NWT Legislative Assembly last sat outside Yellowknife in 1989 In Norman Wells.
“All members are concerned for residents displaced by wildfires, many members are displaced themselves,” he says. “Like you, we fear for the safety of your homes, businesses and communities.”
13:34 – Canada Post cannot deliver mail today to the following communities due to the wildfire situation: Enterprise, Fort Resolution, Fort Smith, Hay River, Kátł’odeeche First Nation, Jean Marie River, Yellowknife, Gamètì, Ulukhaktok, Wekweètì, Whatì, and Łútsël K’é.
“Post offices in these communities remain open, unless they are in a location that is under evacuation order. No new mail will be arriving or sent out at this time. All mail will be held securely as we work on contingencies on moving the mail to and from these areas,” wrote Canada Post on Facebook.
13:25 – More on the work being done in Fort Smith to protect the town, from NWT Fire:
“Yesterday, dozers finished working on a containment line using dozers east of Pine Lake Road to tie it to a water feature. Crews worked on two spot fires along the perimeter of the fire in this area as well. Hard work paid off yesterday as crews completed work to contain spot fires that occurred a week ago just past the most southerly containment line in the Fort Fitzgerald area. Fire personnel are planning to directly attack the east edge of the fire near Hay Camp Road, as fire activity and visibility permit.”
13:22 – The Fort Smith fire did not grow significantly yesterday, NWT Fire says.
“Fortunately, the smoke lingered for most of the day which kept the fire behaviour less active than expected. Firefighters believe that there would have been more growth if smoke wasn’t present, which shaded the wildfire from the sun,” said the wildfire agency in an update.
Temperatures are expected to reach 30C and the relative humidity will be around 30 percent, which creates conditions for extreme fire behaviour.
13:16 – If you missed it, here is a view of the firebreak around Dettah from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation a few days ago.
12:58 – Highway 1 is open from the NWT/AB border to kilometre 158 but continues to close regularly due to wildfires in the area, says the Department of Infrastructure on X.
12:50 – That’s it for this short stint, this is Ollie handing back to Sarah.
12:45 – There are WestJet passengers asking if WestJet has any updated guidance on flights, given the lack of Air Canada guidance (see 12:16 below). Short answer: no. WestJet, too, only has a policy in place till August 30. We’ve asked for more information on what happens beyond that.
12:41 – Hello to Wilma, who asks: “Is there going to be any compensation for people like me that paid for our own tickets, that flew out?”
Right now, Wilma, no. There is no suggestion so far of compensation for people who bought tickets on scheduled flights to leave following evacuation orders. You are not the first to ask, and we are making enquiries.
12:37 – Coming up, my colleague Chloe is in the Town of Hay River’s briefing for reporters at 1:30pm. Emily is covering the legislature’s emergency sitting in Inuvik, which starts at the same time. We’ll have key points here in the live text.
12:35 – Ollie here, taking back over for a short while from Sarah. I can’t believe it’s the afternoon.
To sum up the requests from our reporters today, we’re looking for the following:
If you’re really hurting financially right now, or you’re worried about your small business, my colleague Simona would appreciate hearing from you as we continue to investigate the supports being made available;
Megan is also compiling a playlist of the songs that are getting people through this. If there’s a song you’d like to nominate, let her know and explain why. (We’ll make the playlist available on Spotify when it’s ready.)
12:16 – Air Canada initially said it would put a “goodwill policy” in place for Yellowknife flights booked up to and including August 30. Asked by us this morning what’s going to happen after August 30 (that being Wednesday), Air Canada just responded: “We continue to monitor the situation as it continues to evolve, including with respect to when the airport will reopen.”
Given the lack of information that statement contains for people with flights a few days away, we’ve replied and asked if they can do better.
12:12 – Emily’s updated our ‘wildfire latest‘ story with the new information that just came in from NWT Fire on the Hay River fire. She adds the wildfire agency says successful ignitions from the ground and air held the Hay River fire back “considerably” on Monday. Crews will continue to maintain and run sprinklers on structures as necessary.
The Town of Hay River, West Point First Nation and surrounding areas may be threatened by the nearby fire as hot, dry temperatures continue Tuesday. Kakisa is not at immediate threat.
12:00 – Just in from NWT Fire on the Hay River/Kátł’odeeche/Kakisa fire: no new structures were lost yesterday. The fire has crossed Highway 5 between kilometres six and 20; and Highway 2 in several areas near the Highway 5 Junction.
Monday is going to be another hot day, with temperatures reaching up to 32C. Winds will be lighter but it’s still extremely dry, so the fire could get pushed north and east. Poor visibility is expected, which makes it hard to fight the fire from the air.
The fire’s distance from landmarks has not yet been updated today, but will be after additional assessments are done.
11:45 – I’ve got one more request for you from my colleague Megan, who is working on a story about how the evacuation orders have impacted people’s mental health. If you’re comfortable sharing how you’re doing and how you’re coping, you can send her an email here.
11:21 – If you’ve evacuated to Grande Prairie, the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre is giving families care bundles. If your family would like to receive a bundle, fill out this form.
10:10 – My colleague Megan is putting together a playlist of songs that are helping people cope with the evacuation and she’d like your input. If you have a song that’s meant a lot to you over the last few weeks, send her the song name, artist, and the reason this is your ‘evacuation song.’ We’ll share the playlist on Spotify when it’s done.
10:00 – Anna and Brandon Kikoak and Nick Bevington are organizing NWT Fest, a benefit concert for wildfire evacuees. The concert will take place in Edmonton on Sunday, September 3 at 3:30pm the Borden Park Bandshell, with all proceeds raised going to wildfire relief efforts.
The lineup for the concert will feature to-be-determined acts from the NWT and Edmonton.
9:56 – Molly Tilden and Kristina Poitras are hosting an art raffle on Facebook, with all proceeds to be donated to the United Way NWT.
9:42 – The list of meetings NWT ministers plan to have this week just came out. Premier Cochrane has meetings with the Yukon and BC premiers lined up. Diane Archie and Caroline Wawzonek are (virtually) attending an Energy, Mines and Ministers conference. The three territories have a meeting with Alberta about “economic corridors.”
9:39 – My colleague Simona wants to hear your thoughts on the financial supports the GNWT announced for last week for evacuees and small businesses. You can reach her by email here.
9:31 – Highway 1 is closed from the Kakisa Access Road to the NWT-Alberta border right now. Check the Department of Infrastructure’s Highway Conditions Map for the latest updates if you are driving anywhere.
8:53 – In case you missed it over the weekend, the RCMP are warning people not to click on links in text messages that are offering funding for wildfire evacuees. One of these scams is called the “Canada Relief Fund.”
If you have received a message about funding or supports you did not apply for, it’s likely a scam. Legitimate evacuation supports require you to apply first.
8:49 – This is Ollie handing over to Sarah in Calgary, who’ll take you through the morning while we get our coverage for the week and up and running (and eat breakfast).
8:43 – Here’s the overnight report from RCMP:
“Yellowknife RCMP received few calls for service overnight. RCMP officers continue to patrol Yellowknife, Ndilǫ, Dettah and the Ingraham Trail. There were no confirmed break-and-enters overnight.”
Fort Smith: “Patrols by aircraft will continue as conditions allow.”
Hay River: “Officers were able to return to the community yesterday and conduct patrols. Their presence in the community is continually being evaluated based on the wildfire conditions.”
8:34 – Speaking of things that are not true, if you weren’t following along over the weekend, be aware there’s a scam targeting some NWT evacuees. If you get a text telling you you’re receiving some kind of evacuee funding, I would assume it’s fake.
8:21 – This is not wildfire-related but we’ve been talking a lot about the Facebook ban on news so, if you’re reading this, please tell friends on Facebook that posts like this are not true:
If you see a post like that, or similar to that – and they are all over my feed right now – I can tell you these are just not true. (I have worked for Channel 4, if that helps, but the news network mentioned in these posts changes all the time.) These posts are nonsense, posting this to Facebook will not do a thing, and Facebook is never going to charge you to use Facebook’s basic services, because you using Facebook is their product (they charge advertisers to reach you, which is how they make most of their money).
Of course, Facebook banning news – which a few years ago would have seemed equally as bizarre and stupid – is a thing, and that’s why you can’t see any of our links or posts. But there is no Facebook fee coming for all users, no opt-out by posting a message like the one above, and no truth to any of that message.
8:16 – Coming up this morning, we’re going to do the same thing we did for Yellowknife for Fort Smith: looking at satellite images to examine how the landscape around the town has been changed by the wildfire defence work that’s going on. We now have a clear satellite shot that’ll let us do it.
Charlotte thinks there are maybe 16 Yellowknifers in Yukon right now. “I hung out in Whitehorse, saw some awesome mountains and clear days with no smoke,” she says. And now? She’s doing wildland firefighting training over there. Of course she is.
7:48 – The CBC is reporting that this year’s NWT wildfires have generated 277 times the emissions the territory’s residents created in 2021, the latest available data.
7:32 – The smoke situation is not marvellous. We’re looking at an AQI of 282 here in Fort Simpson, 477 in Fort Providence and the fire crews left in Hay River have a 780 this morning, all of which are firmly in threat-to-human-health territory.
Not that Alberta has it much better. If you’re in High Level this morning, you’ll know how we feel, and Edmonton and Calgary are having a smoky start, too. Here’s our air quality map.
7:28 – Coming up in our live video show from 8am, Wheeler and Lekter are joined by Shannon and, all the way from the Yukon, Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs. Which will be a treat. That show will appear here in a bit.
7:12 – New from Sarah: MLAs are sitting in Inuvik later today to consider delaying the territorial election and examine this summer’s estimated $100-million cost of fighting wildfires. The Dene Nation urged those politicians to focus on helping people.
6:55 – New from us: a Yellowknife city councillor who worked on efforts to build fire defences says the city’s weekend letter telling volunteers to leave “was inappropriate.”
6:36 – Our podcast, Sounds From The Outhouse, has a new episode out: reporting on the NWT’s evacuations. Join me and our assistant editor Emily Blake exploring what our jobs were like for the past two weeks, the role of national and international media, Meta’s ban on news, and how our reporting should evolve to best help evacuees.
6:25 – Good morning. The smoke is thick in Fort Simpson as the sun threatens to rise. First things first, we have the latest from Hay River – where it sounds like fire crews did an incredible job on Sunday.