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As it happened: Sunday updates on the NWT’s wildfire crisis

A helicopter bucketing a wildfire near Hay River on September 2, 2023. Mike Westwick/GNWT
A helicopter bucketing a wildfire near Hay River on September 2, 2023. Mike Westwick/GNWT


Hay River and Fort Smith fire crews continued work on Sunday after a challenging two days, though the weather was expected to be more helpful.

Meanwhile, the plan to bring Yellowknifers back home from Wednesday onward continued to evolve, and some essential workers were preparing to journey back north on Monday and Tuesday.

On this page, we brought you updates throughout Sunday.

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.



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



Live text reporter: Ollie Williams in Fort Simpson. 
Thanks to Lady Slipper Lodge for hosting our Fort Simpson team!

17:52 – Live coverage is wrapping up early this evening as the rain has led to a slightly quieter fire day in some areas, and I’m not expecting any drastic developments on the Yellowknife front this evening.

Of course, what I’m expecting and what transpires are rarely the same thing lately, so if anything does occur, we’ll be right back here with it. Evening updates from each major fire will go into our wildfire summaries page.

There now follows a Nicolas Cage movie marathon here at Lady Slipper Lodge. Whatever you’re doing this Sunday evening, clearly it won’t be as good as that but I hope it’s still enjoyable. Have a lovely night, and we’ll be back tomorrow to begin a rather lively week of continued live coverage.

17:48 – The CBC has now published a Q&A of its own, which you may also find useful.

17:02 – OK, fresh answers are now in our Q&A about transportation home from Yellowknife’s airport, when trucked water and sewer will be back up to speed, and a couple of other minor updates.

16:56 – (No, I totally didn’t just have a nap for 45 minutes, that’s an outrageous slur.)

The City of Yellowknife has latched on to the whole Q&A idea and started its own, focused on the things within its power. I’ll add the city’s answers so far to our own Q&A page, which also includes GNWT responses.



16:11 – Fort Smith’s deputy mayor, Jay Macdonald, says he’ll run against incumbent MLA Frieda Martselos in this fall’s territorial election.

16:00 – Look! A photo of a really soggy Hay River!

Mike Westwick/GNWT

15:37 – From the City of Yellowknife:

“Essential workers returning to Yellowknife, do not put waste in your curbside bins. Waste bins are at three locations until the evening of September 6: the recycling depot at the corner of School Draw and Franklin Ave, in front of City Hall, and the multiplex parking lot.”

15:31 – Edmonton evacuees, there’s a Dene Drum Prayer Gathering taking place in Borden Park from 5pm on Monday.

From CBC host Lawrence Nayally’s Facebook page:

“In light of recent events and in solidarity with our evacuees, we invite you to join us for a special Dene Drum Prayer Gathering. Come and find strength in community, connect with our roots, and lift our spirits through the healing power of the Dene drum.
Let us gather to pray, support each other, and reaffirm our shared resilience. Your presence will greatly contribute to the warmth and unity of this gathering.

“Please bring your drum if you have one, though it’s not required to participate. All are welcome, whether you’re familiar with Dene traditions or simply wish to stand with us in this moment of unity.”



15:21 – What is Cabin Radio’s plan for returning to Yellowknife? A few people have asked.

My personal plan as things stand (subject to change) is to depart Fort Simpson for Fort Providence on Tuesday, then report on conditions and services from Fort Providence first thing Wednesday. Over the course of Wednesday, the plan will then be to get to Yellowknife when it’s reasonably possible to do so, and report on both the journey and the condition of the city.

The plan for my colleagues is being finalized. We’ll maintain live updates throughout, and I’m hoping Starlink from the truck will be as effective as it was on the way out – if so, I will remain able to provide live updates on traffic, gas, highway conditions and more from the vehicle as we go.

15:11 – A little more on Chief Betsina being sworn in and the delay to YKDFN councillor elections.

15:03 – Chief Ernest Betsina has now been sworn in, replacing Edward Sangris as Dettah leader, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation just confirmed. Councillor elections originally scheduled for August 28 will be held “as soon as possible.”

14:56 – A note for essential workers heading home for Monday or Tuesday: there are no “hours of operation” for the checkpoint the same way Wednesday evacuees are being told the checkpoint lifts at noon. Rock up to the checkpoint whenever you like unless specifically instructed otherwise by your employer.

(One or two people had asked about a rumour that the checkpoint was only allowing essential workers through from 12pm on Monday. It isn’t true. Also, when I say checkpoint, I mean the one outside Behchokǫ̀. You shouldn’t be stopped anywhere else unless the highway conditions deteriorate and vehicles need to be held somewhere for their own safety.)

14:55 – A reminder of our reporting so far today:



14:51 – Highways update: Highway 1 remains open from the border according to the highway conditions map. Highway 7 is closed from the BC border to Fort Liard, still, and Drive BC states Highway 77 on the other side is also closed with a next anticipated update on Monday.

14:50 – Of course, I have since informed the dog that the chickens are hardly part of our 72 hours of non-perishables, so can it please, if it’s going to hunt anything, hunt some canned vegetables and broth.

14:48 – Welcome back! The dog came within a metre of bringing home two chickens that were not remotely paying attention.

12:12 – Live coverage is pausing to allow yours truly to go walk a dog and remember what the outdoors looks like. (How am I going to live up to that Jay Leno meme otherwise, hmm?)

Back for 2:30pm or shortly before.

12:03 – The latest from Fort Smith via Parks Canada:

Winds are calming down on Sunday with a high of 17C and a small chance of rain in the evening. A little rain also fell overnight.

There was new fire growth around Thebacha on Saturday. The fire is now reported to be 300 metres from Thebacha. “Fire specialists are assessing the Thebacha area of the fire today and will develop a revised plan for containment lines and strategies within the new growth that will include heavy equipment and on-the-ground firefighters,” Parks Canada reported.



“Firefighters today will continue extinguishment work along containment lines, heavy equipment will keep building on guards and helicopters will assist with bucketing as needed.”

12:00 – A few people have asked how the “accommodation extended until September 8” part of proceedings is being reconciled with “airlift flights start on September 6 and continue for an estimated five days.”

I am informally advised we can expect more information about how those things will align with each other by Tuesday.

11:33 – Latest on the Yellowknife fires, just in from NWT Fire:

“High winds continue this morning, gusty north-northwest up to 45 km/h by noon. The winds will continue into the evening, before easing off around midnight. Disorganized bands of clouds are caught up in the strong winds, and will give the odd shower over the complex today.

“Temperatures are decreasing and will be hovering around the 10C range, several degrees below seasonal. The weather is expected to quiet off a bit on Monday, but there will still be moderately gusty northwest winds.”

Here’s what’s happening on fire ZF015, the one that many people will be driving past over the next few days: “Crews are working on mop-up and bucketing activities on hotspots along the north side of the south finger, and the south side of the north finger of this fire, as well as along Highway 3.” (In other words, those two prongs from before? Keeping the highway-side edges of those prongs in check.)

Crews are “also beginning to demobilize structure protection units within Yellowknife and the wet line around Fred Henne Park,” NWT Fire stated.



11:26 – Not only does Mike Westwick write and say things, he also shoots video (particularly of helicopters – Mike loves a good helicopter). He sent this across from what I believe was the battle for Highway 2 yesterday.

Be a helicopter pilot, they said. See the world, they said.

Video: Mike Westwick/NWT FIre

11:23 – More from NWT Fire on the Hay River situation, just raining slightly on the, uh, rain parade:

“Today, we’re seeing significant rain in Hay River – estimated at 17 mm since beginning yesterday evening, just before 10pm. This alongside winds from the north will mean significantly reduced fire activity and almost no progression over the next two days.

“However, it is critical to remember that the area is in extreme drought – the drought code in the area sits at 800. For context, anything above 340 is extreme. What this means is that there is fire burning deep in the ground through the duff layer – which is the layer of the forest just above the soil full of decomposing leaves and other forest fuel.” (Can you tell Mike Westwick wrote this yet?)

“Today is the only rain in the forecast for a long period of time and clearing and warming is expected throughout the week. That means there is a lot of work that must be done to dig up and extinguish forest fuel from the edge of the fire inwards to prevent this fire from once again threatening the Town of Hay River – where the edge of the fire is just half a kilometre away from critical infrastructure and downtown, and nearly at the main road in and out of town.”

11:10 – Wait, you’re telling me the Snowshoe Inn has a live feed of its gas bar? (Thanks for the tip, Jane.)

10:52 – The latest from the Town of Hay River, just now:



“There is still substantial fire activity to the east end of the fire toward Birch Creek but there are no structures at risk,” the town wrote.

“Some much-needed rain, lower temperatures and high relative humidity have arrived and allowed the crews to re-assess and plan ahead. The 20 to 30 mm of rain expected will assist with knocking down the ground fires but, with the extreme drought conditions and the deepness of the fires, the fires underneath will still need to be addressed and will flare up in the coming days.

“This is part of the planning and will be done with ground crews and equipment. Work will continue building cat lines to allow access to the fires by crews.

“The highway into Hay River remains closed to all traffic and other routes in the NWT are intermittently open to identified essential services only. RCMP will be at full staff in Hay River to support highway traffic.”

10:50 – More from me on the RCMP presence you can expect while driving home, and what to expect in Fort Providence in terms of how vehicles will be guided through (or around) the gas lineup.

10:44 – Edmonton, don’t forget about NWT Fest today!

10:25 – New from RCMP:

“RCMP in Yellowknife and throughout the territory are preparing for the return of residents to Yellowknife. People can expect to see an increased police presence in northern Alberta and along the highways leading to Yellowknife. We understand that everyone is eager to return home, but we want everyone to make it home safely.



“RCMP officers will be enforcing speed limits and adherence to the extra traffic controls planned at the Deh Cho Bridge and near Big River Service Centre. Officers will also be stopping to check on stranded motorists to connect them with assistance.

“Please be prepared for the trip and do your best to be informed on current road conditions before heading into the territory. Unexpected road closures are possible. The conditions you experienced on the way out – including reduced speeds due to traffic congestion, long line ups at gas stations, smoke and others – may also be experienced on your return trip.”

10:22 – Reprinted from this week’s newsletter, read this article from my colleague Megan about her mental health, your mental health, wildfires and evacuating.

Megan and her partner on the drive south.

10:09 – From my colleague Aastha: “We can’t get any food in.” Officials in Wekweètì and Gamètì described the supply breakdown with Yellowknife empty – and one veteran senior administrator queried the capital’s decision to evacuate.

9:37 – A window into life in Fort Simpson right now, one of the few southern NWT communities not being actively pursued by a wildfire.

Emily went to yesterday’s street festival in the village. Take a look at photos. “With the season we’re having, we thought we’d generate some community spirit,” said Mike Squirrel, one of the organizers.

9:07 – Saturday proved to be a more challenging firefighting day in the South Slave than had been expected. Here’s the latest, as of about 10pm last night, from crews in Fort Smith and Hay River.

8:57 – Highways update: Highway 1 is open this morning, according to the highway conditions map, but the advice this weekend is to only travel if you absolutely must. Highway 7 remains closed south of Fort Liard.



8:56 – Please don’t forget the Q&A! This page has many of the answers about preparing your journey home.

8:55 – Coming up (as I eat breakfast, prepared by the magical Mike at Lady Slipper Lodge), we’ll check on the latest wildfire reports that came in late last night.

We also have some great reporting coming up, and those will roll out as the morning continues on our website. I’ll point out new stories here.

8:52 – It’s been raining in Fort Simpson and I’ve seen video of some fairly heavy rain in Hay River this morning. Have some of that. Good morning!