Monday brought the start of a two-day window for essential workers to return to Yellowknife before the general population begins returning on Wednesday.
Dates are still subject to change if highway or wildfire conditions worsen, but the timeline set out by officials on Friday was still in place as of Monday morning.
On this page, we brought you updates throughout the day on travel conditions for essential workers, information for residents planning a return later in the week, and wildfire conditions in Hay River, Fort Smith and elsewhere.
“There have been some questions about when re-entry into Hay River will occur. The essential support personnel identified by the Wildfire Emergency Management Organization and those directly working on the fire are the only people that can be in Hay River.
“The timeline for re-entry is dependent on an acceptable level of risk before citizens may return. The fire has been active over the last few days coming as close as 100 metres to structures. There remains a strong fire risk and re-entry by anyone not required to be there will be a burden to those efforts.
“All efforts are focused on reducing the fire risk and preparing for re-entry at the earliest possible time it is safe to do so.”
“Crews and heavy equipment continue to work along the main northeastern flank, closest to Fort Smith. Firefighters continue to work on both sides of the flank, along Highway 5 and off Pine Lake Road.
“Conditions on the ground, combined with the high winds, make the danger of falling trees a concern for crews.
“Wind is coming from the west-northwest, gusting up to 35 km/h. Scattered rain overnight helped will help calm fire behaviour for a few days, allowing crews to make good progress. There’s not much more precipitation on the horizon, but with temperatures reaching a high of 13C, there’s cause for positivity.”
19:26 – I think we can all agree that just seeing the checkpoint helps. There it is, look.
19:25 – Behold, the fabled checkpoint! This is the Yellowknife checkpoint, which I previously called the Behchokǫ̀ checkpoint but it kinda isn’t, since according to Candace – whose photos these are – it’s about 65 km west of Yellowknife, well past Edzo and Rae.
There’s a communications tower there and a turnaround area if you aren’t allowed through.
“Essential workers are asked their name, which gets checked on a list, asked how many are travelling with you (spouse and kid for us) and then free to go,” Candace writes.
“We didn’t receive an official GNWT letter, but did get a notice from the company that they were good to return.
“Super easy, less than five minutes per car at the checkstop. Still lots of people working along the highway after the checkstop, and in several places the speed limit is down to 30 km/h.”
19:10 – Hello again! Like a Type III live texter, I’m back to extinguish the remaining, smouldering information.
Not too much more tonight, but I have some really useful updates about what to expect at the checkpoint and beyond for anyone making the trip tomorrow as an essential worker.
17:47 – Live coverage will now, like phase three of many a plan, take a pause. I anticipate being back at 7pm or so for some mopping-up.
17:45 – Our return-to-Yellowknife Q&A is now up to date with all information from the press conference, plus WestJet’s email to us about resuming services to YZF.
17:28 – More from me: the military says its special deployment to the NWT will end tomorrow.
17:02 – And that’s it for the press conference.
17:02 – The GNWT says Highway 1 has had some smoky conditions and spot fires but broadly driving conditions are good. “It’s in good shape,” says Jeffrey Edison at the Department of Infrastructure.
17:01 – Cpl Matt Halstead, RCMP spokesperson: “We have not had to be involved in turning anyone away … and we haven’t made any arrests under the Emergency Management Act to date.”
17:00 – Bobby Bourque at the GNWT: “There’s still no set timeline for Enterprise’s return. There’s still a lot to do throughout the community, there are still a lot of assessments that need to be done and essential services return before they can start welcoming back residents.”
16:55 – Yellowknife is going to have garbage amnesty days.
16:51 – The military says it is about to wrap up its operations in the NWT.
“Right now, as of tomorrow, the request for assistance to the federal official process that bring us in … is over,” says Maj Bonnie Wilken. “So we’ve been doing some prudent breaking-down of forces and as of tomorrow that whole effort is done. At this point, territorial resources are sufficient for the needs that are requested and required in the area.”
16:41 – We are now at more than 5,600 applicants for evacuee travel funding.
16:40 – “The key to stopping a wildfire is to halt perimeter progression, which is exactly what all these steps are doing,” says Mike Westwick, asked what the medium-term steps are for Hay River. “We’re in the early stages of that work. Barring anything making us deviate from this path, this is the focus in the short term, the medium term and the longer term. We would then want to see mop-up be done with Type III firefighters.”
16:36 – What should you expect in terms of smoke in Yellowknife? “Intermittent smoke” in the NWT, says Westwick, “not just from fires in the NWT but elsewhere in Canada.” You need to expect smoke when you come back to the city, he says.
16:35 – Westwick said holdover fires (sometimes called zombie fires, ones that stay underground and “hibernate” over winter before re-emerging in spring) are not uncommon and could be a thing next year, but there’s more specific detail on that.
16:33 – There is no figure yet for the number of evacuees affected by the Calgary hotel shuffle.
16:28 – Despite the update just now, there is definitely more than one flight scheduled for Yellowknife Airport on Wednesday as WestJet and Air Canada have each now told us they are restarting service that day. (Something tells me they’re not codesharing.)
16:26 – Recapping an issue raised on Saturday, the GNWT’s Robert Tordiff says the territory is working with the Calgary Emergency Management Agency to reach shelter providers and help vulnerable people get back to Yellowknife – if they wish. (We’ve actually had emails even at Cabin Radio from people trying to help Yellowknifers in Calgary shelters register for flights.)
16:25 – This just in from WestJet while the press conference is ongoing:
“In response to the Government of the Northwest Territories’ re-entry after evacuation plan, scheduled flights between Calgary and Edmonton and Yellowknife will resume on Wednesday September 6, 2023. Guests are advised to follow all instructions provided by local authorities in alignment with the Government of the Northwest Territories’ phased re-entry approach at WestJet.com.”
16:23 – Jeffrey Edison at the Department of Infrastructure says Wednesday remains the reopening target date for Yellowknife Airport’s commercial operations. A limited number of commercial flights are scheduled as airlines have reduced their operations of their own accord. On Wednesday, there is only one commercial flight scheduled so far, at 5pm. “That has allowed us to remove the restrictions and consider it open,” he says, but there are other challenges (around getting contractor staff in place, for example, and those are on their way back as essential workers). The “dirty flight” exemption that helped the evacuation out of Yellowknife, but that exemption won’t work for any commercial flights on the way back. Screening is expected to be ready on Wednesday at noon.
16:18 – Sheila Bassi-Kellett, the city manager, says all of Yellowknife being evacuated was “not contemplated” in either the city or GNWT emergency planning leading up to this. She says Alberta and a group named Canada Task Force 2 have provided support from officials experienced in dealing with situations like these.
16:16 – CBC asks how the Calgary hotel issue happened without more warning. Jay Boast says: “The hotels are private businesses with their own needs and commitments and that was part of the situation here. As soon as the situation became apparent, we moved very quickly to have staff present so people could ask questions and we could provide information for them. It was a quick turnaround but we were able to make sure everyone had accommodation.”
16:15 – Fort Smith: Westwick says the town got much less rain than Hay River, but enough to provide some relief.
16:13 – Westwick says Hay River has been successfully defended over the past two days. “With the help of some rain, we’re able to look … towards taking real steps to securing the area.” (There’s more about this in our wildfire update page.) “We are far from done managing this fire,” he says.
16:11 – Mike Westwick: “We’re going to have fire crews and equipment on Highway 1 for the foreseeable future. Please keep this front-of-mind while you make that journey. Their biggest hazard out on that job site is your vehicles.”
16:11 – Mike Westwick says the fire west of Yellowknife and the Ingraham Trail fire “continue to hold” after the weekend wind. NWT Fire doesn’t see “any imminent risk” to Highway 1 for the next few days. The evacuation order for Highway 3 properties west of Yellowknife will also be downgraded to an evacuation alert on Wednesday at the same time as the rest of the area.
16:07 – More than 2,000 people have pre-registered for evac flights home. You’re urged to get on and do that if you haven’t already. There will be one flight in Whitehorse and one in Winnipeg, both tentatively scheduled for September 7. If you are in either of those places and haven’t pre-registered, get on with it.
16:06 – Jay Boast, from the GNWT, says there are “security points around Enterprise as a means to prevent access to the community.”
16:01 – Here goes. I’ll transcribe the most important parts.
15:52 – Here’s the press conference video link from CBC.
15:19 – Not to suggest it’s been a long three weeks and anyone here is eating their feelings, but I have settled in for this press conference with a family bag of Cheetos and it’s pointless hiding that.
15:06 – People are writing lovely emails to us about our reporting but we are getting such a massive assist from a wide range of people with incredible skill sets.
So far today, we’ve had a bunch of updates from essential workers making the drive, fresh information from airline and government spokespeople taking our questions on what should’ve been a holiday for them too, and just look at these photos from Thorsten in Fort Providence. Now I can show you the three-lane system for gas using an aerial shot! Incredible.
Again, you can see the two lines of pylons creating three lanes: a southbound lane on the right (or top) of this picture, a middle lane for northbound traffic heading to Big River for gas, and a northbound lane for traffic not needing gas.
14:50 – Reminder, GNWT press conference coming up in an hour or so. Streamed from 4pm on the City of Yellowknife’s website and by the CBC.
14:48 – The Yellowknife Co-op’s hours for the next few days:
Food: 8am-7pm. Gas: 8am-6pm. Pharmacy: 10am-6pm.
“Please note we may have to change these hours as necessary,” the store just wrote on X.
14:45 – Yellowknife-area update from NWT Fire:
“The extreme wind is passing out of the region today. We can still expect gusty winds, which will start to lighten in the early evening. Temperatures continue to be cool. Several degrees below seasonal.
“Crews are monitoring the complex as the winds continue, in the event values require protection. Sprinkler systems are at the ready if they’re needed.”
14:42 – Returning to Yellowknife Q&A is now up to date with the latest I can find from any reliable source. At the top, there is a list summarizing the last five sets of changes made so you don’t have to re-read the whole thing each time.
14:29 – Here’s some GNWT advice on flying home on the airlift flights with pets:
“Pets will be permitted on all flights and should be crated whenever possible. If crates are not available, cats must be harnessed, dogs must be leashed, and both must be held as close as possible at all times. Other pets must be contained in appropriate cages.
“There are animal rescues in Edmonton and Calgary where evacuees can get crates. Pick up is preferred as volunteer capacity to bring them to airports is limited.”
Click here for the list of animal rescues where you can acquire crates.
Once you arrive in Yellowknife with pets:
“The NWT SPCA can help with transporting pets once you arrive in Yellowknife. Carriers can be made available to get your pets home. If you can’t take your pets in a taxi or another vehicle for any reason, someone from the NWT SPCA can bring your pet to your house for you. For people experiencing financial challenges, the NWT SPCA is also ready to help with cat food and kitty litter, dog food, hamster/rabbit food and bedding, and feed for birds and fish.”
14:28 – People have been asking about ID requirements for airlift flights home. From the GNWT:
“As was the case with evacuation flights, travel with expired ID and without ID will be permitted.”
14:26 – New from the GNWT, a little extra fuel guidance:
“Gas will be available for purchase in northern Alberta and in Fort Providence. Emergency fuel will be available along the highway. In the event of an emergency, enough fuel will be provided to get a vehicle to the next gas station.
“In Fort Providence, gas is sold at Big River, the Northern Store and the Snowshoe Inn. Only the Big River gas station and the Snowshoe cardlock have diesel available. The Northern Store does not sell diesel.
“The GNWT is working with gas stations to ensure there is enough fuel in Fort Providence. There are no concerns about fuel supply.
14:20 – Here’s a little more on the Calgary hotel issue and the GNWT’s promise to prioritize Calgary flights on Wednesday.
14:11 – The GNWT has confirmed the earlier report (see 8:06 entry) of some Calgary hotels telling people they’re being relocated. Here’s a GNWT statement on the matter, which reads in part:
“Teams will be on-site at each affected hotel today, September 4, between 12pm and 3pm to let people know where they will be moving and to answer any questions they may have. GNWT staff will be available to answer questions and help people pre-register for flights home.
“The City of Calgary will try their best to relocate affected individuals to different hotels, but where that is not possible, evacuees will continue to be supported through group lodging. Evacuees that have additional needs will be prioritized for hotel reassignment.
“All wrap-around emergency social services will continue to be provided to those accessing group lodging.
“The City of Calgary will arrange transportation to the new accommodation locations and will continue supporting evacuees through the transition. The GNWT has prioritized repatriation flights from Calgary on September 6, to support evacuees currently in Calgary to come home.”
14:08 – Hay River fire update from Mike Westwick, who has so far restrained himself to sending just the five photos of helicopters today:
“Clear skies today are [starting to dry] the rain received yesterday, with relative humidity (the level of moisture in the air) at midday sitting at about 44 percent. Cooler temperatures, reaching about 13C, will also help keep fire activity down. Interestingly, there was already some torching (single or small groups of trees burning off) showing this morning despite the heavy rain – a testament to the impact of long-term dry conditions here. Winds from the west, 5-10 km/h gusting up to 15 km/h.
“Tomorrow, wind from the south-southeast, temperatures about 14C, and a good amount of moisture in the air should mean minimal fire activity and a very good work day for firefighters and heavy equipment.”
14:04 – Photos from Candace showing the approach to the Deh Cho Bridge one-lane system and then the pylon system set up as you near Big River.
I don’t have any official intel on this, but my assumption on seeing the image above is that the left-hand lane is for southbound traffic (see vehicle at top of picture), the middle lane is for gas station traffic and the right-hand lane is for onward travel if you don’t need to stop.
14:01 – The Dene Drum Prayer Gathering in Edmonton today has switched venue from Borden Park to behind River Cree.
14:00 – The Town of Hay River has a new video showcasing photos of the work done in recent days.
13:59 – Fort Providence sounds well organized (Fort Prov, heroes in all of this, eh?). There’s a clever checkstop and lane system in place already for people who need gas, people who don’t, and traffic heading the other way. Photo to follow.
13:56 – Back! A few updates coming your way right now.
12:31 – OK, now the dog walk. Back for 2:30ish ahead of the press conference at 4pm.
“Today, winds will be from the west/northwest at 15 km/h, gusting 30-35 km/h. The high is 13C, with a relative humidity of 38 percent. There is no sign of any significant precipitation in the longer-term forecast.
“Firefighters spent yesterday working in the Thebacha area to hold a few spot fires from Saturday’s wind event, including two that spotted across the Salt River. They were also working to contain a few spots off Foxholes Road that were found yesterday morning.
“Heavy equipment will start creating a new containment line near Grand de tour Road today, connecting into the Slave River. Crews will follow this containment line with hose to prepare to do direct attack on the ground along the perimeter that grew on September 2.
“On the eastern side of the fire, crews keep working on the containment line to the south of Fort Fitzgerald and along Hay Camp Road.”
No change in fire distance to any communities. No date for return yet, and a warning: “It is still unsafe for members of the public to be here.”
12:02 – And lest anyone needed any further reason not to attempt the drive back into Hay River, I’ve just seen a photo demonstrating the RCMP checkstop at the bottom of Highway 2 is alive and well.
11:58 – It is worth a reminder (thanks for the email, Celine) that this travel guidance is for essential workers heading back to Yellowknife only. Regular residents are asked to head back starting Wednesday, and won’t get through the final checkpoint until noon that day.
Evacuees from the South Slave are being asked not to travel. There’s no return date yet for those communities.
11:56 – There is full cell service coming into Enterprise, we’re being told, which is in stark contrast to there being nothing for most people heading south during the telecoms outage.
11:54 – Still haven’t gone on the dog walk. Important updates keep coming.
Candace’s journey north (see earlier updates) has reached the Alberta-NWT border. Here is what to expect if you’re an essential worker heading that way:
“It’s a single lane at the border. Person at the checkstop asking where you’re going, and when we said Yellowknife, asked if we were essential (yes but didn’t have to share paperwork) and waved us on.
“There is a big sign stating Yellowknife is essential only. Just south of Enterprise, smouldering on both sides.”
Note that the checkpoint where you will have to show that you’re on the list, according to what we were told by the GNWT, is the one outside Behchokǫ̀.
11:20 – That’s my cue to slip out for a dog walk. We’ll return in the early to mid-afternoon well ahead of the press conference, and will provide live text updates throughout the press conference as usual.
11:17 – Confirmation just came in: the GNWT will indeed hold a press conference at 4pm today.
11:15 – An Edmonton shoutout from Vanessa:
“The vet in Edmonton gave my German shepherd medication to help with the horrible anxiety, so it is already much nicer trip and we just started. It is super smoky in Edmonton today but, being a holiday, the roads are really quiet right now.
“Edmonton has been so great to us. The whole evacuation centre was so friendly and fantastic. Hugs everywhere from them in the beginning. The animal daycare staff were absolutely wonderful and loved our three dogs. They always had supplies. Even when we said this is their last day, they offered supplies for the way home.
11:13 – From Northland Utilities for South Slave customers, particularly Enterprise:
“The exact date when power will be restored to Enterprise is unknown, as damage to infrastructure is significant. However, we’ve been able to assess the damage and have already developed a staged rebuild plan,” the company told me by email.
“We’re mobilizing crews to begin restoration as soon as later this week. Materials to rebuild are already on site (timing will depend on proper permissions related to the lifting of evacuation orders) Since the fires started, we’ve been in close contact with community leaders and for about two weeks now, we’ve been providing temporary generation to supply power to the community hall.”
Billing has been paused for all customers and late payment fees temporarily suspended. Those fees are being waived through September 30, a date that may yet be extended.
“Once evacuation orders are lifted, Northland Utilities will assess the most appropriate timing to resume billing,” the company said.
10:54 – From Air North via email:
“We are very glad for residents that they can begin returning this week! Once people are settled, we plan to resume our scheduled service beginning on September 9.
“Regarding supporting the return of residents before then, we are engaged with officials in Yellowknife to offer any flight support we can based on our capacity.”
10:43 – Here’s Steen River just a few minutes ago. “The roads aren’t busy at all,” I’m told, which is probably a good thing seeing as 20,000 of us aren’t supposed to be anywhere near there for a couple of days yet.
So far, no sign of any issues for essential workers heading back today.
10:39 – From the GNWT via email: The toll gantry on the north side of the Deh Cho Bridge recorded 145 vehicles heading north on Sunday.
Note that this number is the total for all vehicles, including local traffic heading into Fort Providence and government vehicles working on highway operations. So that isn’t the same as saying 145 vehicles drove to Yellowknife yesterday.
But we can establish that number as a baseline for the rest of the week. I will get the number from the toll gantry each day and publish it here, and that’ll give you some sort of sense of how many vehicles have already made the journey.
10:34 – How will Cabin Radio’s newsroom cover Yellowknife’s return home?
We will continue daily live updates throughout the week, and those updates will of course include Hay River and Fort Smith wildfire coverage alongside the best minute-by-minute information we can supply to Yellowknife evacuees heading back.
Emily is driving from Fort Simpson to Edzo right now. She’ll stay in Edzo overnight and report from Edzo and the checkpoint on Tuesday and Wednesday.
I’m in Fort Simpson today, relocating to Fort Providence tomorrow. I’ll report from Fort Providence on Wednesday morning, then the checkpoint and Yellowknife.
Sarah will report from Calgary on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as the main movement of people begins.
Aastha and Simona are in eastern Canada and will relocate to Yellowknife as commercial flights permit.
Megan and Chloe are on extraordinarily well-timed annual leave and safely out of the picture this week.
10:20 – No change to highway status: Highway 1 is open with no reports of issues. Highway 7 is closed at the BC border.
I got a message a moment ago warning of speed traps. There is definitely a likelihood of Alberta highway patrol being out there somewhere, and being an evacuee (and essential worker) probably won’t count for much. In the NWT, bear in mind that RCMP vehicles by the side of the road may be interested in your speed but are also likely there this week as an additional source of assistance if you need it.
9:45 – New from my colleague Megan: using tracks you selected, we made a special evacuation playlist to accompany your days as an evacuee or your long drive home.
I have to tell you, this was an extraordinary read just now. The meals they made! It sounds like a wild ride, from grabbing every last raw ingredient from various Yellowknife pubs and restaurants, down to harvesting zucchinis out of people’s abandoned gardens.
I cannot recommend that article enough. I think you’ll love it, and if you’re from Yellowknife, it’ll make you proud. A few of the photos:
8:26 – From Air Canada to me just now:
“We are currently finalizing the plan to help people return home, taking into account the current need for airlift to the city and our existing capacities. We will resume operations to Yellowknife on Wednesday, September 6 from both Edmonton and Vancouver.
“Our regional partner is in touch with its employees who had to evacuate to coordinate their return to Yellowknife ahead of the resumption of flights. Our price-capping policy on non-stop flights to/from Yellowknife remains in effect during this time.”
8:06 – While the GNWT has said evacuees’ accommodation is being extended until September 8, it appears that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be the room – or even the hotel – you’re in now.
The below letter was just sent across to me. The evacuee who received it called it a “Monday morning surprise.”
“This letter is to inform you that your hotel room at this location will no longer be available as of September 5 and you will need to check out on that date. We will be on-site at this hotel tomorrow, September 4 between 12:00pm and 3:00pm to let you know where you will be moving to on September 5 and beyond. Transportation to your new location will be provided on September 5,” the letter reads.
“A representative from the Government of the Northwest Territories will also be there to answer questions about flight pre-registration and returning home. If you choose, you can also make your own plans to stay with friends or family from September 5 to the date of your departure back to Yellowknife or Northwest Territories.
“We know this move is an inconvenience and will try to support you as much as possible through this challenging time. We thank you for your cooperation and patience.”
7:46 – Much of the NWT is getting a little cooler this week, after sustained hot weather that set records for Yellowknife in both July and August.
7:29 – Where to expect portable washrooms on the road home: “in and around Fort Providence and the Deh Cho Bridge, as well as at North Arm Park and the Rae access road,” the GNWT states.
I am told the Department of Infrastructure has arranged cleaning for the extra portable washrooms being brought in. I think anyone with any experience travelling NWT highways will tell you: bring some toilet paper and any other inventive solution you can think of for handling a less-than-clean roadside outhouse. In my experience, bears generally speaking will not get you if you decide to use nature’s own facilities.
7:22 – I’ve approached Canadian North, Air Canada and WestJet for updates as well, and we’ll follow up with the GNWT at a press conference scheduled for 4pm today.
7:19 – Air Tindi just told me it hopes to resume scheduled flights on Friday this week, which I know is a very important piece of information for various communities.
7:06 – Coming up through Alberta to Yellowknife, you have a clear shot if you’re an essential worker heading out. Highway 1 shows as open on the GNWT highway conditions map and I have no reports of ugly conditions along the way (but it’s also early in the day, so there isn’t much information out there).
How you’re handling accommodation if your trip home includes an overnight stay
Whether you find it easy or hard to get gas and other supplies
Highway conditions heading into the NWT past Enterprise to Fort Providence
What happens at the checkpoint outside Behchokǫ̀
We will relay any information you can give us to essential workers behind you who are making the same trip – and your updates may help people planning their returns from Wednesday onward, too. Thank you!
7:04 – I get the feeling it’s going to be a busy week. Happy Labour Day, everybody. If you’re an essential worker heading home, we’ll do our best to help you out along the way. Everyone else: wildfire updates and Yellowknife logistics updates will appear here.