A wildfire near Hay River is seen from a drone near Fort Providence. Photo: Thorsten Gohl
20,000 Yellowknife residents scattered across Alberta and beyond received more information on Saturday about their journey home.
The City of Yellowknife and Yellowknives Dene First Nation have said all residents can return from noon on Wednesday, September 6. We’re documenting questions and answers about logistics on a separate page.
On this page, we brought you key updates on the NWT’s wildfire crisis throughout the day.
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
17:52 – (That was a surprisingly accurate time estimate.) The updated Q&A page is here! I’ve added all the answers we now have to questions that were listed there earlier, and we’ll continue updating that page tonight and into the coming week. We will try to turn that into a one-stop resource for getting home.
17:32 – That is the end of the press conference. A lot to digest. Scroll down to recap everything, I am going to add all of this information to our Q&A page in the next 20 minutes or so. Stand by!
17:31 – Is there an earliest date people can book a commercial flight to Yellowknife with reasonable confidence that that flight WILL go ahead? Jeffrey Edison at Infrastructure runs through a list of the challenges. A lot of things are going to take days to bring back online, and many of the staff needed are not GNWT employees (like security). “We’re hoping to start somewhat of a limited commercial airport opening on Wednesday. It’s really hard. I don’t expect it to be long. We originally looked at Sunday, September 10. I think we can close that gap, but there are no guarantees. More to follow.”
17:30 – Will there be any financial supports for Fort Providence? Shane Thompson: “I’ve had a conversation with Mayor Beaulieu. We do have a hosting grant they were able to apply for. Our regional staff are working with them to get that application filled out. The same with Fort Res, they opened up their homes and community.”
17:24 – If you have medical travel booked in Alberta soon, do you just stay in Alberta? Or come back, then get flown back down? What’s the plan? Kimberley Riles says: “There have been temporary amendments to the medical travel policy. I can’t give a blanket answer, every medical travel situation is pretty nuanced. We are prepared to support some degree of medical travel that has to happen within other jurisdictions, not necessarily originating in the NWT. Reach out to your employer, anyone who has employer medical travel benefits, because those might be very different. Anyone under the NWT medical travel policy should be working with our primary care providers.”
17:22 – Has the GNWT been into Enterprise yet? Shane Thompson says: “I reached out to the mayor. We’re talking about going in on Tuesday to see the impact on it. I will be having conversations with leadership in Fort Smith and Hay River tonight to talk about what our plans are.”
17:21 – Will there be any change in services available in Alberta for South Slave evacuees? Jay Boast says: “Until Wednesday, we are going to be at our current levels. What will happen is an assessment of: as folks leave, what does that mean for those who are left and how do we provide the services that have been provided? We have extended stays until at least September 8 and we are using that time to assess what other supports need to be in place and what changes, if any, can be put in place. The support here in Alberta is not over, it will shift and change but we are already working on those plans.”
17:17 – When will shelters be ready and how are vulnerable people getting back to Yellowknife? “There are some challenges,” said the GNWT’s Robert Tordiff. “Not all have phones, some have left hotels and integrated into the host communities … We have people on the ground in Calgary right now working with [the City of Calgary]. They’ve been monitoring and tracking NWT evacuees that have been accessing their services. We are prepared to help [people] to get registered, take them to airports and if they wish, we can return them to the Northwest Territories.”
17:12 – What’s the deal with road checkpoints and when they open? Here’s Jeffrey Edison: “There’s actually only one checkpoint for the re-entry portion of it. Those checkpoints south are for the safety of the highway. The one checkpoint we currently have is at km 272, and that’s for entry into Yellowknife. Even for Monday and Tuesday, that checkpoint will remain in place. We’re asking people not to travel north [on those days] unless you’ve been notified you are essential. On Wednesday at noon, that barricade will come down and the only barricades on the highway then are just for the fire and safety of the highway itself.”
17:10 – If you drove out but don’t have a ride back, you can get a flight. Go pre-register.
17:09 – Big River’s fuel capacity has been “doubled” compared to what was available during the evacuation, Jeffrey Edison says. “We’ve been measuring what was used during the evacuation as well. There are no concerns about fuel. We have ordered six extra tankers to be on hand as well. There’s other fuel stations. Northern doesn’t have diesel but has gas, the Snowshoe Inn has a Petro-Pass card lock.”
17:07 – Jamie Fulford on flight luggage allowances and pets: “We recognize that when people went out, they just had a few things. The baggage allowance on the way back is going to be two 50-lb bags with no oversize baggage. As for pets, there are going to be exceptions in play there a swell. It’s preferred that people have pets in carriers but having a pet on a leash or in your arms is acceptable.”
17:04 – Shane Thompson says staff are just “starting to talk about” re-entry dates for South Slave communities. Jay Boast says: “Given the current conditions, it is premature to talk about timelines for when they are coming home. There is still a threat to those communities.”
17:00 – The mayor plays down any disagreement with the GNWT yesterday over a re-entry date. (There was 100-percent a disagreement over the timing of the announcement.) The mayor says all parties are working together.
16:59 – “People with insurance should be checking what their coverage is,” says Boast, if you’re trying to find extra supports to get home. “You do have to make plans based on the conditions, and that includes weather, fire, distance and all of those things. It is going to be a challenge.”
16:58 – Asked why there isn’t more to help people get home, Bill MacKay at Finance reiterates the very-much-lost-on-most-people point that the $750 payment is seen by the GNWT as a payment to help you get back, not to cover your costs getting out. (As I’ve said before, I do not think that’s how virtually anyone saw that payment at the time.) “There are supports, although admittedly they probably don’t cover all of the expenses. We are offering the $750 travel support for people to drive their vehicles back,” MacKay says.
16:56 – If you’re not in a regional centre, how do you get onto a plane? Jamie Fulford at the GNWT says the territory is working with Alberta to determine “what the collection points are.” The sooner you pre-register, the better, is the advice.
16:55 – The mayor says this is still a “five-phase” plan, even though it does not feel like a staggered return for the general population. Jay Boast says: “This is where individual planning comes into play. You have to decide on your own circumstances, whether it is best for you to head home on Wednesday, or Thursday, or Friday, depending on your personal circumstances and what that means for you and the plan. Regardless of when you go, you are going to need to be patient.”
16:53 – If the highway has to close in the middle of this re-entry operation, what happens to people heading through northern Alberta with nowhere to stay? “We’ll ensure people beyond the barricades get through any areas,” says Edison at Infrastructure. “As for people at the barricade, hopefully it’s a short duration. We’ve only had a couple of long-duration closures, excluding last night for the wind event. That’s why everybody is saying you need to prepare for this. It just changes so rapidly, you have to be prepared that the road is going to close. Have water, food and essentials on hand. There is no expectation it is going to be closed for days on end.”
16:50 – If the GNWT is asking people to bring food and fuel, is the city really adequately prepared? Alty says the city is “balancing bringing people home with being fully staffed.”
“We can’t wait a whole month to get everything up and running and be perfect,” the mayor says.
16:46 – If you can’t afford the gas to drive home (there will not be free gas) and haven’t had your $750, the advice seems to be to wait till the end of this coming week and then you should have the money – if you applied for it – to help you get home. There was no mention of other supports.
16:45 – Jeffrey Edison on commercial flights: “We’re planning repatriation flights and that’s the priority right now, to get in the people essential to getting Yellowknife up and ready. We’re working hard to try to line up those commercial operations to coincide with the evac order being lifted, but there are a lot of challenges we need to overcome.” On day one, there’ll be reduced services, he says. “We are working to close the gap of when we get back to full resumption.
16:41 – There will be a special speed limit around the Deh Cho Bridge and around any gas stations (let’s face it, there ain’t many).
16:40 – Jeffrey Edison on Big River not being open 24-7 this time around: “Advance notice from Big River is they have lost a lot of key staff, university students returning to university. They will be open from 6am to midnight. They will try to extend that.”
16:39 – Rebecca Alty on the safety of coming back: Every day it’s analyzed, ECC does a review to see the status of the fire. If there was a need before Wednesday to change the evacuation order, or keep it, that would be taken into consideration. The September 6 comes with a big caveat of weather and fire, and it wouldn’t be downgraded to an alert if there was a forecast change to the fire.”
16:35 – Mike Westwick says NWT Fire is “feeling very good about where we’re at” regarding the fire west of Yellowknife. The eastern perimeter held yesterday, despite the “extreme wind event.” Shane Thompson says the evacuation alert will be similar to other communities in the past, “from an order, to an alert, and then having people be prepared.”
16:32 – When is the $750 in travel support money coming? Before Tuesday?
Bill MacKay at the Department of Finance says there are 5,000 applications for travel or income disruption funding. He says Tuesday and Wednesday for getting that money out. “I don’t know if we’ll get it all out before the 6th.”
16:31 – “We can still see smoke on these highways, so drive to the conditions,” says Thompson.
16:30 – Edison says there’ll be a plan in Fort Providence to divide vehicles that need gas and those that don’t, avoiding delays.
16:30 – Jeffrey Edison (Dept of Infrastructure) says: “We are providing portapotties, there are 15 in various areas around Providence. We will have traffic controllers on the Deh Cho Bridge, which is down to one lane. A key point: please be patient, please be kind. We have tow trucks with emergency gas only, this is not free gas to get you back.”
16:27 – There will be no gas or food in Behchokǫ̀, Boast says.
16:26 – Boast slightly clarifies what the minister says: if you leave BEFORE the evacuation order is lifted, you are responsible for your own food and accommodation on the way home. Even after the order is lifted, you’re not allowed to re-register at an evac centre. If you arrive at a checkpoint before the evac order is lifted, you will not be allowed through, he says. (There’s a bunch there that doesn’t fully make sense to me yet, we will seek clarity.)
16:24 – “The GNWT has arranged for current accommodations to be extended until September 8 for those who need it,” says Boast, and is working on solutions for anyone who needs longer – for medical or other reasons.
16:23 – Pre-register for a flight “as soon as possible” to help the GNWT figure out how many planes it needs, Boast says. (You’ll get your flight info at least 24 hours before it departs.)
16:22 – The GNWT’s Jay Boast says the evacuation order has been updated to ensure there are “no issues” for essential workers and their families pre-Wednesday.
16:20 – “If you’re driving, consider bringing back 72 hours of non-perishables,” says Alty. (Some people have asked if the expectation is for airlifted people to do the same. The inference I’m taking from the way she just spoke is: no, if you’re airlifted in, you’re not being asked to have three days of food with you.)
16:19 – Alty says the city will organize buses, taxi vouchers and ambulances (for people with mobility issues) to get people being airlifted home back from the airport to their homes.
16:18 – Rebecca Alty stresses the weather and fire conditions “are a big caveat” but the city and YKDFN didn’t want to delay releasing the plan.
“As we’ve seen … the highway will open when it’s safe. This can be intermittent, so watch the GNWT’s website closely,” Alty says.
16:16 – Julie Green to Fort Smith and Hay River residents: “I want to emphasize that we will keep our lines of support open with our partners in the south while you’re away.”
16:14 – “For those advised not to return immediately [for a medical reason], we’re working on transition supports and will bring necessary services online as soon as possible,” Green continues.
16:12 – “We estimate it’ll take us a month to reach full capacity,” says Green, adding that her estimate includes bringing back all patients moved elsewhere.
16:11 – “I want to ask for something important: to be kind to each other,” says health minister Julie Green.
16:10 – The GNWT is repeating its message for South Slave evacuees not to try to get to Yellowknife.
16:09 – There are shades of Mitch McConnell to Shane Thompson’s opening statement, which as far as I can tell are technology-related issues.
16:08 – Please do not drive back toward the NWT-Alberta border until Wednesday, says Thompson. There are no supports for you in northern Alberta. If you’re driving, he says, “You will be responsible for your own food, place to stay and other things.” (Not clear if that means gas.)
16:07 – Shane Thompson confirms the evac order for the Ingraham Trail will downgrade to an alert whenever the same happens for the city and YKDFN.
(I will update our Q&A page after this, so don’t go rushing there till maybe half an hour after the end.)
16:03 – This’ll run for up to 90 minutes, we’re told.
16:02 – Here we go.
15:59 – Lots of last-minute questions arriving in my inbox. I love you all but there are limits to my ability to read emails, watch a press conference, articulate the questions and type the answers here. The ship has probably sailed for getting a question to me for this, but I will try to follow up later.
15:50 – One senior politician who I suspect we’re about to see has just written to point out that the politicians might themselves answer some important questions in their opening remarks.
Listen, if the politicians’ opening remarks answer key questions, that would be bloody marvellous. Nobody here is opposed to helpful politicians. I’m excited now.
15:37 – I should warn you that, in spite of everything, it wouldn’t surprise me if a bunch of politicians want to talk at the start of the press conference. (To me, this press conference is a very, very operational press conference. This is a how press conference, not a why press conference. We kind-of blew through the why part! You guys announced it so let’s figure it out.)
15:36 – Speaking of questions, I don’t think I have ever had this many questions leading into one press conference. Remember, I am writing out important questions here and adding answers as they arrive.
15:32 – A big question, that a significant number of people have requested we ask, is a simple one: “How will we know it is safe to make the drive?”
I’ll be interested to see how that is answered.
15:16 – Also on my list of recommended reading: my colleague Megan wrote an exceptional first-person piece (with research and expert voices) on mental health during this wildfire season and the recent evacuations. It was in our newsletter, which you can sign up to get for free each week.
15:07 – Less than an hour till the GNWT’s press conference. It’ll be carried live on the City of Yellowknife’s website and I have to imagine the CBC will take it live on its website, too.
While you wait, can I urge you to read this reporting by Emily on what happened to Enterprise and the hamlet’s future. There is so much happening but we can’t lose sight of this kind of devastation occurring to an NWT community, and this report does important work in capturing what happened and reflecting some residents’ determination to rebuild.
15:01 – Hang on, here’s further clarity on what you should expect by way of confirmation if you use the online form to pre-register for a flight:
I’ve just spoken with a GNWT official who says the pre-registration instruction page is currently not quite accurate.
At the moment, if you go to fill out the online form, the wording kinda suggests you should expect an email confirming your pre-registration. This is not correct. If you fill out the online form, you are taken to a webpage confirming the GNWT has received it. Do not expect an email! If you see the confirmation page, you’re all good.
This is what the confirmation page looks like:
If you see that page, you did it. If you are at all concerned, use the contact info shown.
14:49 – A reminder that both Highway 7 (from the border to Fort Liard) and Highway 1 (from the border to the Kakisa access road) are closed right now, and look like they’ll stay that way for some time.
“The extreme wind event continues through the weekend,” NWT Fire wrote. “The entire complex will be monitored throughout the day for values protection and increased fire activity.
“Winds are picking back up today, turning to the northwest and becoming extremely strong, gusting to around 45- 55 km/h. Temperatures are lower than in the past few days, reaching around 16C, but that’s still 5C above seasonal.
“That won’t last however, as an arctic cold front is expected to push through the complex overnight. Winds will still be strong on Sunday, gusting around 45-50 km/h, but temperatures will be well below seasonal and there is a chance of weak showers. The extreme wind event is expected to be over by Monday.”
14:40 – In reference to the issue below, not getting confirmation of pre-registering, the GNWT’s website states: “You will receive a response that your email is being processed. If you do not receive a response, please call 1-888-383-4830 or email NWT-TNO@OneCLogistics.com.” But importantly, scroll up and read the 15:01 update.
14:37 – One person just wrote in and asked: “We filled out the re-entry flight pre-registration form. Why is there not an immediate confirmation of receipt of the submitted form? We have no idea if the form was received or not.”
Did anyone fill out the form and get a receipt?
14:36 – In other news, if you were imagining downtown Yellowknife on a Friday night was some kind of deserted island of tranquility right now… apparently not.
14:25 – A little more on the school reopening announcement that just came in.
14:18 – Yellowknife area schools will restart on September 14.
Here is the schedule just sent out:
September 11: Staff will report to work and begin preparing and setting up schools to be ready for students.
September 12 and 13: High schools will open for registration and distribution of timetables.
September 14: “Our doors will open to welcome students back to school.”
14:16 – I have updated some of the airlift section of our return home Q&A. (If I were you, I’d bookmark that page, and I’d definitely be re-reading it last thing tonight – I’m hoping a lot of answers arrive in the hours ahead.)
14:14 – Here’s our full report on the flight pre-registration process opening up.
14:08 – What does pre-registration for flights mean? Here’s the GNWT explanation:
“Pre-registration is the first step in developing passenger lists for re-entry flights. From there, appropriate aircraft will be booked based on need in established flight hubs. Pending evacuation orders being lifted, flights will depart as early as Wednesday, September 6 and continue for an estimated five days.
“Flight hubs across Alberta are currently being identified and will be finalized based on need. Evacuees can also pre-register for flights from Whitehorse, Yukon and Winnipeg, Manitoba. Once an evacuee’s flight information is available, it will be sent to them at least 24 hours before departure via email or text. They will also receive information on ground transportation from evacuation/reception centres to the assigned airport. When email or text are unavailable, information will be provided to evacuees over the phone.
“Evacuees from evacuated South Slave communities are asked to remain where they are rather than travel to Yellowknife. Given the limited services that will be available in the city as residents return, no supports will be available in the form of evacuation centres or accommodations for evacuees from other communities in Yellowknife.”
14:06 – Back! The big news in the 90 minutes I was away (I dream of the day I can go on one dog walk without breaking news): the flight pre-registration process has opened for airlift flights back to Yellowknife.
12:35 – OK. Press conference coming up at 4pm. I have some laundry to take care of and a dog to walk. We’ll resume live coverage a little after 2:30pm unless anything urgent develops in the interim.
“Today, strong and gusty winds will continue for the Fort Smith area. The high is 19C, with a relative humidity of 45 percent. Winds are expected from the west/northwest at 20 km/h, gusting up to 40-50 km/h. There is a small chance of rain overnight today (1-2 mm) and during the day tomorrow (2-4 mm).
“Skies are clear today in the Fort Smith area, which means we may see a pickup in fire activity with the current wind speeds. Temperatures are cooler today though, with higher relative humidity.
“There was no change in fire distance to any of the communities.”
12:17 – New! I’ve created a page of all the questions we plan to ask about supports to get people back home to Yellowknife. If it’s missing important questions (which it almost certainly is), let us know.
11:48 – This satellite image from August 13 is equally awe-inspiring and awful. Wildfire being blown eastward at a rate of 50 km a day on the left, and Enterprise on the right.
11:34 – From my colleague Emily, featuring one of the most terrifying wildfire photos I have ever seen:
11:10 – This just in via email from Mayor Rebecca Alty, confirming exactly what will happen at noon on Wednesday:
“To confirm my comment from yesterday: Wednesday at noon, the GNWT will lift the checkpoint at Behchokǫ̀. Confirmed just now by INF at the re-entry planning meeting.”
10:52 – A little more on the Hay River fire from NWT Fire:
“The Town of Hay River and surrounding areas were successfully defended today due to the hard-fought efforts of this team. Some growth seen to the east of the fire as it nearly reached Birch Creek in areas close to Highway 5 yesterday.
“Another day of aggressive air attack is planned with helicopters and air tankers to keep the fire at bay – aircraft are already in the air, making drops. Structural firefighters led by the Town of Hay River will patrol throughout the day and addressed any concerns related to fire.
“Structure protection systems (sprinklers) will be run throughout the day to assure the safety of neighbourhoods as fire behaviour picks up.”
10:14 – Latest from the Town of Hay River:
“Excellent work was done yesterday to keep the fire from causing any structural loss under very challenging conditions. This was completed by air tankers working to the west of town and helicopters in the Mile 5 area. This work will continue today. Ground crews will also be deployed to the area south of town. The fire did not reach the fire guards yesterday due to the aerial work.
“Winds will be strong today but the relative humidity is higher, which reduces the fire risk. Today, work will be done to assess the fire from the air and map a strategy. Tomorrow will be the resumption of putting up cat guards intended to control the fire growth. Structure protection will continue today, operating equipment and being deployed as required to address any embers.
“Tomorrow is a forecast for rain, which will greatly assist fire control efforts.”
10:05 – This was the wildfire south of Fort Liard (it’s a good way south, over the border) yesterday evening.
9:50 – Yellowknife’s mayor and the mayor of Calgary have issued a joint statement “urging crisis management supports be sent to Calgary by provincial and federal governments.”
“Calgary is currently one municipality that is in need, but I encourage the GNWT to work with their provincial and federal counterparts to make sure all municipalities hosting evacuees have enough social supports,” Alty just wrote.
9:38 – The GNWT highways map now shows Highway 7 is open from Checkpoint to Fort Liard (thanks, Walter, for pointing that out). Still closed from Liard to the border.
9:22 – 3,843 people have now asked us to ask about commercial flights this afternoon. We’re on it.
8:42 – Fort Simpson is a big, green “0” on the Cabin Radio air quality map this morning and I just woke up the other half to tell her. “We have to go outside! Sip it with a straw!”
8:23 – From Lynn Foley at Inclusion NWT:
“Inclusion NWT wants to thank Parkland Class Community Living and Supports Society in Red Deer for their generosity and support.
“They picked up the Inclusion NWT supported living clients and staff from Calgary after a long, late flight from Yellowknife upon the evacuation. They gave Inclusion two homes for the clients to reside in for the duration of the evacuation. They filled both fridges with food, beds and bedding for all. They drove the clients and staff around until we could rent vehicles.
“Parkland Class made a difficult, stressful situation so much easier for all. Our clients enjoyed dances, pizza parties, movies and exercise classes with the Relax Crew. They were safe and comfortable. We are forever grateful and thankful.”
8:16 – Important highway update: Highway 7 is now closed at the BC border. Remember, Highway 1 is closed at the Alberta border, so there is no open road from southern Canada to the NWT right now. The only road access into the territory is via Yukon.
8:15 – We have a couple of articles coming out later this morning about the various impacts of this fire season on smaller NWT communities. Stand by for those, they’ll appear here shortly courtesy of my colleagues Emily and Aastha.
8:12 – Two things are occurring today: on the one hand, it’s the Saturday of a holiday weekend, so you and I each need to at least find some room in our heads for non-wildfire activities. Agreed? Agreed.
But: There’s also going to be a GNWT press conference at 4pm that will (hopefully) include a lot of key information for Yellowknifers planning their return home, and there are still wildfires knocking on the doors of Hay River and Fort Smith.
So this live page will have updates that are less frequent than those during the week, but all the important information will appear here when we get it. If I need to head out for an hour or two for my own mental and physical health (!), I’ll let you know when that’s happening.
Go have some kind of Saturday and don’t refresh this page into oblivion, but check in a few times to catch up on anything important.