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As it happened: NWT postpones Yellowknife’s reopening on Wednesday

Smoke rolling in over Yellowknife the afternoon of August 29, 2023. Danny/Risk Control
Smoke rolling in over Yellowknife the afternoon of August 29, 2023. Danny/Risk Control


Yellowknife evacuees await more details on the plan to bring them home, while residents of communities like Hay River and Fort Smith look on as crews continue to battle nearby wildfires.

On this page, we’re bringing you live updates throughout Wednesday as the Northwest Territories’ wildfire crisis continues.

A fire season already expected to cost $100 million or more continues to keep more than 25,000 NWT residents away from their homes.

Yellowknife has begun recalling critical workers but there’s no firm date for the general population to return.



Read our quick summary of wildfire threat to get the latest on the fires in less than a minute of reading. And remember to bookmark our homepage for all of our coverage in one place.

Contact us:

  • We have guides to where to stay and everything else. Please, please check those thoroughly before writing to us
  • We are also keeping track of the status of utilities, rent and other bills in evacuated communities
  • We are not the government but we will try to get you an answer if you ask us a question and we think the answer would help a sizeable number of evacuees
  • To ask a question, email us here
  • 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
  • Send us photos and video of your experience by emailing us here

Reporters working on our continuing coverage are Ollie Williams, Emily Blake, Sarah Pruys, Megan Miskiman, Chloe Williams, Aastha Sethi, Simona Rosenfield, Bill Braden and Hannah Paulson.

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Updates appeared below, latest first. All times are MT. Live coverage has ended

Live text reporters: Sarah Pruys in Calgary and Ollie Williams in Fort Simpson.
Thanks to Lady Slipper Lodge for hosting our Fort Simpson team!

20:13 – We’re going to wrap the live up here for tonight, but Ollie will be back with Thursday’s live first thing tomorrow. I may also be right back here, if Penny wakes me up at 6am again…

20:07 – Higher moisture, lower temperatures, and lower winds helped keep the Hay River/Kátł’odeeche/Kakisa fire activity lower today.

Tomorrow, a potential thunderstorm is in the forecast, which could bring erratic winds and unpredictable fire behaviour. There might be a little rain – from one to three millimetres – but it won’t make a significant difference to the fire. The fire may grow toward the east tomorrow, says NWT Fire.

20:03 – Just in from a friend of mine who stayed behind to volunteer in Yellowknife and was kind enough to water my garden: “Your zuchinnis the size of small children.”

18:39 – From Ollie: The NWT government has walked back an earlier pledge that Fort Smith residents would receive two separate travel payments over their back-to-back evacuations.



18:38 – “It’s a lot of emotions: frustrated, annoyed, upset when I first heard,” Yellowknife’s mayor said as the evacuated city’s reopening plan was paused.

Rebecca Alty just told Ollie a reopening date for all residents was on the verge of being announced – and then plans changed. Now, it’s not clear when that announcement will come.

17:58 – The Yellowknives Dene First Nation says it had to pause disbursing emergency funding at the River Cree Venue “due to unforeseen circumstances caused by the wildfire emergency.”

“Our finance team is working to find a solution. We will provide an update and further instructions as soon as we can,” YKDFN wrote on Facebook.

17:53 – I know we’re focused on all of these financial supports updates right now, but I want to take a minute to again thank all of the firefighters and other people still on the ground in our evacuated communities fighting these wildfires.

A Hay River Fire Department crew members attends to a hotspot. Photo: GNWT
A Hay River Fire Department crew member attends to a hotspot. Photo: GNWT

17:48 – We know the news about the GNWT walking back its promise Fort Smith would get two evacuation travel payments is hard, as is the news there are no additional supports for seniors during the evacuation. Oh, and the news you might not actually qualify for travel evacuation payments and that there is no support for people who booked their own flights. There’s been a lot of tough news from the Department of Finance today.

I know we’re going to keep getting lots of emails about this, and we’ll continue to take your concerns and questions to the government. I’d encourage you to also email your MLAs who can advocate more directly on your behalf.

17:43 – “Despite the closure of the highway, the repatriation of essential health staff (by air) will continue during this time. This is important to allow time for safe resumption of services,” says Yellowknife and the GNWT.



17:42 – High winds are expected to “accelerate” fires along Highway 1 from Friday to Sunday. The GNWT and City of Yellowknife expect the highway will be closed to all traffic over these three days, and as such the governments are pausing their recall of most essential workers.

17:30 – More from Ollie: The NWT government says it is placing the reopening of Yellowknife on hold because of wildfire risk along the territory’s highways in the coming days.

The City of Yellowknife had said it was beginning to recall some critical workers in preparation to reopen the territorial capital at an undetermined later date, but all except the most essential workers are now told to stay away. Only healthcare workers specifically identified by the NWT government will now be allowed through, “effective immediately,” the GNWT stated just before 5:30pm on Wednesday.

17:24 – The GNWT formally “paused” any re-entry to Yellowknife, saying it expects Highway 1 to close between Friday and Sunday because of high winds and extreme fire conditions. More follows.

17:23 – The GNWT has officially walked back its earlier promise that Fort Smith evacuees would get one $400 payment for their evacuation to Hay River, then another $750 for the trip south when Hay River itself came under an evacuation order the following day.

Ollie will have more shortly. The move, the GNWT said, would “ensure that those evacuating from multiple locations in quick succession due to the same overarching circumstance aren’t unduly advantaged over others who may have evacuated directly.”

16:46 – And immediately an update on programs for seniors: “There are no programs that specifically target seniors. Additional supports are listed on the GNWT’s public safety page. I encourage you to follow up with the responsible departments,” Ollie was just told by a Department of Finance spokesperson.

16:41 – From Ollie: I have been back and forth all afternoon with the Department of Finance over the issue of whether there is any actual financial support for non-working seniors right now. So far, we have been able to establish that “seniors who are not working are not eligible” – the department’s words – for the Evacuee Income Disruption Support program. I am still trying to establish, with certainty, whether there exists any other program (beyond the travel program, if you drove the vehicle) that a non-working senior could use for financial relief right now.



16:26 – The City of Yellowknife is asking people to stay in their current evacuation locations and not move to northern Alberta evacuation centres. The notice comes after the Town of Peace River advised its evacuation centre was at capacity and that it is “not able to accept any new registrations at the reception centre, including those moving North ahead of re-entry.”

15:58 – To be honest, I’ve never watched Power Rangers and had to do a little reseach to make sure I understood the meme.

15:48 – This is Ollie handing you back to the Red Power Ranger in Calgary.

15:40 – Stuff you might have missed:

  • Fort Smith’s fire chief described the challenges posed by an out-of-control fire that isn’t moving much – and set out what must happen before people can return
  • “We recognize there will be gaps.” The GNWT said nobody who bought their own flight to evacuate Yellowknife will get compensation for that
  • A checkbox on the GNWT’s evacuee travel funding form confused some people trying to claim – an issue made worse when the box’s wording completely changed
  • The weather forecast for Friday and Saturday is hot and windy, leading crews across the NWT to predict severe fire activity on those days. Here’s the latest on the wildfire threat
  • The NWT’s barge resupply season is a real struggle this year: first low water levels, then evacuations. Affected communities downstream want a highway instead
  • You can claim your evacuation expenses as a northern resident deduction trip, with a few exceptions, says Yellowknife tax consultant Andy Wong. Here’s a guide

15:15 – Regarding the RCMP worrying about some 50-vehicle mob descending on NWT checkpoints, my greatest concern so far is that the screengrab of the Cabin Radio story being shared on social seems to be some kind of night mode where our website is black and the text is white.

I have got zero idea what that looks like or how to edit the design, so I sure hope anyone who uses our website in that mode is finding that everything works OK, because I didn’t even know it did that. (And I designed most of it.)

15:02 – Here’s the Yellowknife fires update from NWT Fire:

“Winds slowing down, changing direction frequently today and into Thursday. High heat continues today, potentially breaking the record high for Yellowknife for August 30 of 25.3C. The heat is expected to ease later this week, but will stay high another day or two.



“There is a potential for showers and even thundershowers on Thursday evening, but the amount of rain expected will not directly have much impact on the fire situation. However, lowering temperatures will help crew and reduce fire behaviour.”

No major drama reported for the Dettah and Ingraham Trail fires.

“High temperatures last evening led to smoke columns from a blow up on the south side of this fire. Crews responded,” NWT Fire said of ZF015 west of Yellowknife.

No guidance from NWT Fire yet around how the wind on Friday and into Saturday might affect these fires. We know that the forecast for those two days is being watched carefully in Hay River and Fort Smith.

Get all of NWT Fire’s updates here.

14:59 – Thanks to Abby for sending this in. “PSA for all the evacuees with doggos in Leduc,” she writes, referring to this destination.

14:39 – So far today, this has not been a massive W of a Wednesday for the territorial government – who, granted, are trying to pull off a range of emergency programs and manage multiple evacuations at once, including the unprecedented evacuation of the capital, while most of the staff expected to handle that kind of thing are themselves evacuees. That part is worth acknowledging.

That doesn’t, of course, make being a regular evacuee any easier, and today has not brought much good news. As of 2:30pm, we know people who bought flights to safety are getting nothing and a checkbox on the travel funding form might have torpedoed a bunch of applications.



We still have a request in about how evacuee travel payments for Fort Smith are being handled and, not to worry you, but I sense the proverbial storm clouds gathering over that one. We may soon have a lightning-caused inbox fire.

14:35 – Man, my dogs are barking, as Kevin would say. Hello everyone, it’s Ollie.

14:23 – Handing over to Ollie for a bit – the dogs need a walk!

14:06 – From Ollie: A checkbox on the GNWT’s evacuee travel funding form confused some people trying to claim – an issue made worse when the box’s wording completely changed. If that checkbox has left you unsure what the heck’s going on – or if you’re wondering, “What checkbox?” – read this article.

14:04 – We’ve continued to add shoutouts to this story to recognize people who have stepped up during this crisis.

If there’s anyone you think we should report on, send us an email with the subject line “Amazing” with details.

13:21 – The Association franco-culturelle de Yellowknife (AFCY) is hosting a picnic at Edmonton’s Jackie Parker Park on Thursday.

“Since the onset of this evacuation, French speaking Northerners have been organizing their own evacuee support groups with French language channels to share information about peoples needs and situations,” says Batiste Foisy, who works for AFCY.



13:16 – Municipal and Community Affairs Minister Shane Thompson has renewed the territorial state of emergency from August 29 until September 11, 2023.

The state of emergency was first declared on August 15 under the Emergency Management Act to allow the territorial government to acquire and deploy the necessary resources to support the management of the wildfire season. Territorial states of emergency must be renewed every 14 days if the emergency still exists otherwise they expire.

12:51 – An aerial view of a fire break built using heavy equipment in the Fort Fitzgerald area next to the Slave River.

An aerial view of a fire break built using heavy equipment in the Fort Fitzgerald area next to the Slave River. Photo: Wood Buffalo National Park
Photo: Wood Buffalo National Park

12:41 – This video from our general manager, AJ, shows the lineup of vehicles heading south in Enterprise and awaiting a pilot car to take them through a wildfire-affected area. (It’s important to stress that this line is heading south, not north. And again, if you absolutely have to travel that stretch of highway, you must – must – bring food, drink and other supplies to last for many hours if you’re held up by fires or smoke.)

12:30 – “We recognize there will be gaps.” The GNWT said nobody who bought their own flight to evacuate Yellowknife will get compensation for that.

12:25 – Judging by the state of our inboxes, we know there are a lot of questions about the GNWT’s evacuee travel support and income disruption support form – particularly around what exactly the government means when they ask if you’ve received any other financial assistance, and how this will affect your application. 

We’ve asked the GNWT for urgent clarification and will update this live and our relevant stories as soon as we get an answer.

12:22 – The GNWT says if your company is supposed to be carrying out essential work for the GNWT in or near Yellowknife, and you’re not sure if you are on the list, check with your territorial government contact rather than the City of Yellowknife. (We’ve heard some companies are having trouble figuring out if their names are on the list. The other thing to bear in mind is: if you’re a contractor or subcontractor, figure out which party is the one that needs to be on the list and who that covers, and make sure everyone involved knows what is on the list.)



12:14 – Highway update from our general manager AJ, who was helping with Yellowknife’s wildfire defences and is now evacuating as directed. “Got stopped about 30 mins after the Highway 3/Highway 1 intersection and we were piloted to Enterprise,” he just wrote. “We now wait again for another pilot to the border. Smoky for sure but nothing too crazy.”

The message from the GNWT, by the way, is that if you are recalled as a critical worker and asked to make the trip the other way – heading back to Yellowknife – be prepared for possible very long waits at checkpoints because of wildfires and smoke. As in, if you’re travelling, pack for an overnight wait or a delay of up to 10 hours during the day. Obviously the hope is that does not happen, but it is a realistic possibility, so you are going to need food, warm layers, lots of water, and, I dunno, a good jigsaw puzzle or something.

By the way, AJ’s wildlife count on the way down: “Saw a bison, fox, wolverine, moose and a black bear.”

11:58 – Smith’s Landing First Nation says applications to Jordan’s Principle – a program which provides funding for supports for Indigenous children and helps coordinate access to services and supports – will be expediting applications from wildfire evacuees given the urgency of the situation.

For help applying, call (866) 848-5846 or email

SLFN members can also contact Kim MacDonald at (867) 688-4834 or by email at for help.

10:59 – Police in the NWT say they will repel a group of “as many as 50 vehicles” said to be planning a return home en masse from Alberta to Yellowknife

10:52 – The weather forecast for Friday and Saturday is starting to trigger warnings from fire crews of severe fire activity likely on those days. Here’s the latest on each of the fire complexes causing the most concern.



10:47 – “In discussion with long-term residents, elders and fire specialists, no one has seen drought levels this high before,” says Fort Smith Protective Services, noting with no moisture in the ground they’ve had to adjust fire management tactics.

“Plants and vegetation that usually would be unlikely to burn and could be relied on as natural breaks in forest fuels that would aid in slowing a fire down are burning much faster than usual,” Protective Services wrote.

“Fires are exceptionally stubborn this summer, extinguishing deep-burning hot spots and securing lines is taxing time and resources and is especially difficult.”

10:43 – Fort Smith Protective Services says Friday and Saturday may be challenging days (we know, it feels like we write this every week, but the fire is still very much there and still out of control).

“The forecast predicts very windy and dry weather. We are preparing for potential fire growth due to anticipated strong and gusty winds. Fire personnel have spent the past two weeks creating containment lines, running high-volume sprinkler systems, equipping critical buildings with structure protection, removing trees and vegetation between the fire’s perimeter and communities and doing fire smart work in vital areas. The upcoming forecasted weather may challenge these measures,” the agency wrote.

10:41 – The Town of Hay River’s new guidance on municipal taxes and utilities is in our guide to what’s happening to everyone’s bills right now.

10:40 – We just heard back from the Department of Infrastructure, who wrote: “Highway 1 has been closed all night and remains closed due to a wildfire close to the road, heavy smoke, and fog. It will reopen when it’s deemed safe.”

10:29 – Lastly, the Town of Hay River has voted to waive interest penalties on property tax, water and sewer accounts, and general fees until October 31, 2023. It is also delaying issuing utility bills until October 1.



10:27 – Heading into the weekend, fire risks will increase around Hay River and Kátł’odeeche First Nation as winds are forecast to increase to 50km/hr out of the west.

Fire risk near the highway, particularly in the Alexandra Falls area, is expected to continue until the end of the wind event on Saturday.

10:25 – “All highways in the South Slave area currently closed including Highway 1 at the border due to smoke and fog, and conditions were part of the cause for a motor vehicle accident near Enterprise yesterday. No one was injured but one of the vehicles had to be taken off the road,” says the Town of Hay River.

10:23 – There’s lots of fog and and smoke in Hay River right now, but it’s giving crews time to do more fire prevention work.

Today the temperature will be 21C with relative humidity at 70 percent and light winds – all good things when it comes to slowing down a wildfire. 

“Town public works crews are beginning public infrastructure damage assessments and inspections of water/sewer systems,” said the town in a update. “Water levels are good in Hay River’s reservoir.”

9:48 – The story’s ready, that was fast. Here, Fort Smith’s fire chief describes the challenges posed by an out-of-control fire that isn’t moving much – and set out what must happen before people can return.

9:42 – Yesterday I interviewed Fort Smith’s fire chief, Adam McNab, about what it’s been like having an out-of-control fire on the town’s doorstep for weeks now – and about what comes next. I just finished writing that story so we’ll have that for you as soon as Ollie has a chance to edit it.



9:40 – Good morning from Calgary, where it looks like it is about to rain. I wish I could send it north!

9:35 – I’m off to work away on some reporting. This is Ollie handing off to Sarah in Calgary who’ll be with you for the next while.

9:34 – My colleague Megan also wants your suggestions for the songs getting you through your evacuation. Email her with your song, artist, and why you picked it.

9:16 – This is a delicate subject but it’s an important one, and we want to look into it some more. We’re asking for your help if this applies to you:

If you’re an evacuee right now and seriously considering your future in the NWT – whether you return to Yellowknife, Hay River or Fort Smith, for example, or whether you stay in Alberta or move elsewhere – we’d like to hear from you. If you’re happy to share your thought process right now and the factors you’re weighing up, please get in touch with our reporter Chloe.

9:09 – After days of people writing in to say “there’s no sign of any fire near Yellowknife, we should be allowed to go home,” there has been an interesting shift this morning to “I have been told it’s going to be windy on Friday and I worry that Yellowknife won’t be safe.”

Each of which are perfectly reasonable opinions to hold, but these are the times I do feel sympathy for the poor people deciding when everyone actually comes back.

You’re right, the weather forecast for Friday and Saturday does feature some wind that would, if it materializes, be expected to blow the fire toward Yellowknife. This is why calling people back from an evacuation is challenging, not least because thousands of people are going to need to drive through the zone of that wildfire, just as they did on the way out.



It’s worth noting that the city is working to recall some critical workers but we do not know, with certainty, the dates being given to all of those workers, and there is absolutely no sign yet of a date for the general population to come back. So there is ample room for the recall to be delayed or amended to account for concerns about conditions.

The other thing to add is that a whole lot of work has gone into fire defences and active attack of that wildfire. That doesn’t entirely preclude the possibility of embers travelling some distance, but it does help a lot.

On Friday morning, we hope to have NWT Fire live on our morning show and they’ll be able to give us the best possible gauge, then, of how that day is looking and what that means for the fire.

8:51 – Overnight report from RCMP:

“Yellowknife RCMP received a 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. RCMP officers remain posted at the Department of Infrastructure checkpoint near Yellowknife. There have been no incidents at the checkpoints that have required police intervention.”

Fort Smith: “Patrols by aircraft have been impeded by heavy smoke which has reduced visibility at the airport. These conditions are evaluated throughout the day to see if a flight is possible.”

Hay River: “Officers from the Hay River detachment have remained in the community and are conducting patrols and assisting people as needed. RCMP officers remain posted at the Department of Infrastructure checkpoint near Enterprise. There have been no incidents at the checkpoints that have required police intervention.”

8:49 – As you probably saw, the territorial state of emergency has been extended. That has no direct bearing on the timing of evacuation orders etc – it’s a separate thing, basically – so don’t worry about the length of the state of emergency having any bearing on when you go home.



8:46 – OK, breakfast and then we’ll dive headlong into our regular stream of updates through the day. At least two or three more articles coming your way in the next few hours.

8:43 – Morning show has wrapped. If you ever wanted a tour of Scott Letkeman’s childhood home, Stonewall, Manitoba, today is your lucky day.

8:03 – Our morning show is now live!

7:59 – Over the past couple of weeks, lots of reporters have called me about the situation in the NWT and, in particular, how Meta’s news ban on Facebook and Instagram is affecting things.

This report by Wired involves Cabin Radio, and today’s CBC Front Burner podcast is… well, it’s me, yapping on about infrastructure in the North (asked to explain recent remarks by Premier Caroline Cochrane) and Meta, and the CRTC.

To read more journalism about the NWT fires, Meta and Cabin Radio, check out the list beneath our own latest podcast.

7:40 – There are now multiple NWT Strong merch campaigns to choose from.

7:37 – Premier Caroline Cochrane, federal northern affairs minister Dan Vandal and others will visit the Edmonton evacuation centre later this morning. (We don’t have a reporter in Edmonton but I’ll watch out for any other coverage of anything the premier says.)



7:33 – Some NWT-related reading from The Globe and Mail: Yellowknife ER physician Courtney Howard, Deninu Kue First Nation member and Western University associate professor Nicole Redvers, and Yellowknife family physician Sarah Cook write about how this must be “a moment where we stop, re-evaluate our practices and plan how we will keep Mother Nature – and each other – safer and healthier.”

7:29 – How does being an evacuee affect your taxes? Yellowknife tax consultant Andy Wong explains to my colleague Sarah how evacuation travel works with your northern resident deduction, among other issues.

7:14 – Lots of queries from Fort Smith residents yesterday regarding the GNWT travel payment website wrongly listing the town’s evacuation date. By the looks of it, that has now been fixed. If you are continuing to have trouble claiming for your evacuation travel, let us know (but be aware we will not be able to fix it – the best we can do is let the GNWT know if there’s still an issue affecting a significant number of people).

7:12 – The NWT’s barge resupply season was already suffering from low water levels. Hay River evacuating is just the latest crisis. For Norman Wells, all of these disruptions only underscore the need for an all-season road. Here’s more from my colleague Aastha.

7:03 – Updates from Hay River and Fort Smith will appear as we get them throughout the day. I have no immediate morning news from either town. I know Hay River had no structural losses yesterday, but heavy smoke also meant no aircraft could fly.

We should have a separate Fort Smith report for you from our newsroom a little later.

6:59 – Not to start today on a downer, but it’s worth being realistic about the fires outside Yellowknife. After days of not-a-lot, yesterday was definitely an active fire day and you can see as much from any satellite map you care to examine.

I have not yet seen any suggestion that this resurgence in activity affects any timelines but, even in a best-case scenario, be aware that returning home may mean still putting up with smoky days and a general sense of a wildfire being not overly far away. (The fires are not magically out. They’re huge, alas.)



Note that anyone saying “we’re not out of the woods yet” must now pay a $100 fine directly to the charity of their choice, as the entire problem is very obviously in the woods and the whole issue is whether or not it leaves said woods, not our own location vis-à-vis the woods.

6:51 – In a moment, I’ll take you through some of our new journalism this morning.

Remember we also have a live morning show from 8am over here and, while I’m at it, we’re expecting to have a couple of guests from NWT Fire and the GNWT’s emergency management team on Friday morning’s show. So that’ll be a good arena to get some questions answered if you still have concerns by Thursday evening.

(Call me a relentless pessimist, but I think a few unanswered questions may remain by Thursday.)

6:49 – Good morning. I had an actual day off yesterday (for the most part). It involved berry picking, watching An Officer and a Gentleman, and snuggling with loved one and pets. I have updated my status to Being Held.