Vehicles wait at the checkstop outside Yellowknife on September 4, 2023. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio
The return of essential workers to Yellowknife continued on Tuesday in advance of an expected homecoming for thousands of residents on Wednesday.
Key staging posts along the highway, like the small Dehcho community of Fort Providence, were ready to receive a cascade of vehicles in the coming days, many seeking fuel for their lengthy drive.
On Tuesday afternoon, however, Northland Utilities reported a power outage in Fort Providence. The Big River Service Centre said it expected gas service to be unavailable for several hours as a result. Power was restored to most of the community by 5pm.
Portable washrooms, police vehicles and tow trucks with emergency fuel had also been stationed along a route spanning more than 1,000 kilometres for many drivers.
Meanwhile, firefighters were working to “secure the town” of Hay River after days of rain opened a window for real progress against a huge fire that triggered the community’s evacuation more than three weeks ago. Crews are also hard at work in Fort Smith against a complex of fires that has burned since May.
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.
If our coverage is helping and you’re able to support us, you can sign up for a small monthly donation that goes directly toward paying our staff.
Updates appeared below, latest first. All times are MT.Live coverage has concluded
Live text reporters were: Emily Blake in Edzo and Ollie Williams in Fort Simpson. Thanks to Lady Slipper Lodge for hosting our Fort Simpson team!
19:08 – That’s it for live updates from me tonight. For those of you travelling tomorrow get some rest. Ollie will be up bright and early with updates tomorrow and the rest of our team will be working to bring you updates and stories from the road and outside the NWT throughout the day.
18:35 – Ollie has reached Fort Providence and says there is no lineup for gas.
18:33 – Just thought of a better gif. But also don’t do this.
*Oprah voice* You get gas! You get gas! Everybody gets gas!
(Just kidding, I can’t afford that).
18:19 – Cabin Radio also has a handy dandy Q&A page about returning to Yellowknife and what to expect when you get there.
18:15 – The City of Yellowknife says those on trucked water should only use the water in their tank for cooking or bathing when they get home and should wait until a refill to use it as drinking water. Regular water services are scheduled to resume on September 7.
The city says people on piped water should not be concerned if their water is initially discoloured as it has remained stagnant for three weeks. It recommends running your taps for five to 10 minutes until the water is clear, and flushing your toilets.
18:02 – For folks driving north from Alberta in the coming days, RCMP say to expect an increased police presence on highways in Alberta and the NWT.
“We know everyone is incredibly anxious to return home. Our community has been through a lot over the past three weeks, and the last thing we want is to have a death or injury due to someone being impatient or reckless on the roadways,” Cpl Shean Kidd with the NWT RCMP’s traffic services was quoted as saying. “We encourage everyone to be patient, and to respect the rules of the road, and each other.”
17:55 – From Ollie: The latest from driver’s reaching Behchokǫ̀ is that roads and visibility on that stretch are good.
(Can confirm that it is sunny and clear here.)
17:53 –More on the power and gas situation in Fort Providence.
17:50 – The City of Yellowknife has published a question and answer page on returning to Yellowknife along with information on what to expect at the airport, waste pickup and solid waste facility hours, water quality and services and more.
17:45 – Just now from Northland: “Power to most of Fort Providence was restored by 5 pm. Power remains off in the area near the damaged lines (behind FNorthern Store) affecting 10 customers as we work on the repairs. We expect power to be fully restored to the impacted area in approximately 6 hours. Thank you for your patience.”
17:41 – Big River Service Centre has posted an update on the power outage in Fort Providence saying “it shouldn’t be long before power is restored.”
Northland Utilities has yet to provide an update.
17:34 – The City of Yellowknife says it will be coordinating rides for residents from the airport to their homes in the coming days and it is looking for volunteers to help. Flights are expected to begin arriving around 11am tomorrow. Anyone with a valid driver’s licenses and access to a vehicle is asked to email email@example.com with your availability as soon as possible.
16:44 –More on BDIC’s new wildfire assistance program for businesses.
16:09 – The Department of Infrastructure says the parking lot at the Yellowknife airport will remain open and free until Monday, September 11 at 8 am. The department says it will reassess this date if more evacuation flights are scheduled.
15:59 – As we reported yesterday, the Canadian Armed Forces will be leaving the territory in the coming days.
National Defence Canada says at its peak, 350 deployed members, air support and local rangers were helping with wildfire suppression efforts. The Air Task Force also assisted with the evacuation of approximately 430 people.
At this time, there has been no request for the Canadian Armed Forces to help with return flights to Yellowknife. Active wildfires have now been “deemed actionable” by territorial resources, meaning Public Safety Canada and the GNWT believe the territory has enough resources to handle them without the Canadian Armed Forces.
Eligible businesses can receive up to $5,000 if in an evacuated community and $3,500 if they are not in an evacuated community but were still adversely affected by evacuation orders.
15:12 – From Ollie: The GNWT has just issued a response to that Facebook post doing the rounds about “come home everyone!” You know the one – it claims you can just breeze through the checkpoint and so on.
“Road check stops are still in place. To ensure our highways and checkpoints are safe and clear for essential workers today, we ask that the general public NOT try to drive into Yellowknife until the evacuation order is lifted on Wednesday,” the GNWT just stated in response.
“This will ensure essential workers can get home so that Yellowknife can be better prepared to provide essential services to residents coming home.”
15:10 – From Ollie: The latest information we have from staff on the ground in Fort Providence is that power repairs could take until around 7pm or 8pm.
15:06 –Has anyone made any art, crafts, music or writing during the evacuation? Or planning on making evacuation inspired art? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve been collecting broken glass and ceramics during the evacuation. Not quite sure how I plan to use them yet.
14:51 –Staff at NJ Macpherson School have created a video sharing messages to students. Yellowknife and area schools are set to welcome students back on September 14.
14:44 –Air Tindi says it plans to begin resuming its regular flight schedule on September 8.
Customers that have open tickets or reservations that were impacted by the evacuation order are asked to email email@example.com.
14:20 – The latest update from NWT Fire on the Hay River/Kátł’odeeche First Nation fire:
Clear skies and continued drying are expected today as temperatures are forecasted to reach 16C. East to southeast winds of 10 to 15 kilometres per hour expected along with relative humidity between 35 to 40 percent.
It says no rain is forecast for today or tomorrow and previous rainfall relief in the area is already beginning to fade.
Similar conditions are forecast for tomorrow which the wildfire agency says could support some fire growth.
Helicopters continue to complete drops on hot areas of the fire, crews are digging up hot spots and extinguishing them.
Crews are working to secure the Hay River and Kátł’odeeche First Nation by tightlining with heavy machinery from Great Slave Lake through the entire Hay River Corridor to the Highway 1 junction west of the town, as well as to secure the finger of the fire which crossed Highway 5 into the reserve. Direct attack crews will extinguish anything hot or burning within the edge of the fire.
13:44 –Despite rumours to the contrary on social media, the general public is not able to return to Yellowknife until noon tomorrow. Currently only designated essential staff are being allowed through a checkpoint on Highway 3 outside the city.
13:39 – More on the power outage in Fort Providence and how it’s affecting gas service.
13:13 – Yellowknife City Councillor Garett Cochrane has published a letter from the city and Yellowknives Dene First Nation with information for residents returning by plane:
It says there will be volunteers at the airport to help if you need it. The city, YKDFN and Tłı̨chǫ government have arranged for transportation from the airport to your place of residence through a combination of volunteer drivers, taxis and shuttle buses.
For people requiring assistance, St John Ambulance will be on site. Child care seats and pet crates will also be available at the terminal.
12:53 – The latest update on the Wood Buffalo Complex from Parks Canada:
The wildfire has now been mapped at 476,860 hectares and is still considered out of control.
Today, a high of 15C is expected with a relative humidity of 40 percent and east winds from five to 10 kilometres an hour gusting up to 15 kilometres per hour.
“We know you’ve been away from home for awhile now, and we’re doing everything we can to get you back as soon as it is safe to do so. Please do not return to or visit evacuated communities. It is still unsafe for members of the public to be here. Large equipment, fire operations and structure protection systems require extra room and need to focus on fire suppression. There are limited supplies in the community – what remains is needed to ensure first responders are properly equipped to stay here and manage the incident.”
12:46 –Big River Service Centre is reporting a power outage in Fort Providence. It says no fuel services will be available until lines are repaired. It says it expects the outage to last several hours.
12:08 –More on what’s happening with mail for residents in evacuated communities, as well as those where transportation networks have been impacted by wildfires and evacuation orders.
11:52 – More from Canada Post on its free mail forwarding service for evacuees:
It says NWT residents affected by wildfires with the postal code X0E or X1A are eligible for a free mail forwarding service.
Those staying in a community centre, hotel, motel or shelter wishing to access the service are advised to visit the closest Canada Post corporate post office location.
Anyone needing further assistance can contact customer service at 1-866-607-6301 (TTY: 1-800-267-2797).
The latest mail delivery service interruptions can be found here.
11:41 – The latest update from NWT Fire on wildfires in the North Slave:
Winds are lightening up today with temperatures expected to hover around 13C. Sunny conditions will mean widespread smoke across the complex, the wildfire agency says.
Behchokǫ̀/Yellowknife fire ZF015: Crews are continuing mop up and bucketing activities on hot spots along the north side of the south finger, and the south side of the north finger, as well as along Highway 3. They are also beginning to demobilize structure protection units within Yellowknife and the wet line around Fred Henne Park.
Ingraham Trail fire ZF011: Crews are mopping up and bucketing hot spots on the northwest and southeast sections of this fire. They are also working on demobilizing equipment to be deployed elsewhere.
Dettah fire ZF085: This fire remains out of control. The fire is being assessed daily and monitored and crews are prepared to action hotspots and any threat to containment line escape.
11:26 – In case you weren’t aware, Cabin Radio has a Tik Tok account. You can find news and other fun video content there.
11:02 –For evacuees headed north, the Town of High Level says starting today, the registration centre at its sports complex will be open to evacuees 24 hours for:
Snacks and refreshments;
Showers and bathrooms; and
10:55 – Shane Thompson is set to tour Enterprise this week for the first time since the community was devastated by a wildfire.
10:49 – Some photos of firesmarting work in Edzo.
10:04 – From the City of Yellowknife, a reminder to residents that the city may look a little different when you return:
“We are so excited to welcome everyone home later this week! Residents will be returning to a city that is well-protected against wildfires for many years to come. As a result of the tremendous amount of work done to firesmart our community and create fire breaks, Yellowknife will look different upon your return.”
9:47 – The Department of Infrastructure says 475 vehicles headed northbound on the Deh Cho Bridge on Monday.
That’s compared to 145 vehicles recorded by the toll gantry on the north side of the Deh Cho Bridge heading north on Sunday.
Those numbers account for all vehicles, including local traffic heading into Fort Providence and government vehicles working on highway operations. So all of those vehicles did not head to Yellowknife. (At least one of those vehicles recorded Monday was me headed to Edzo from Fort Simpson).
9:35 –More on Field Law’s 2023 community fund program.
9:06 – Field Law says it is now accepting applications for its 2023 community fund program. Eligible programs and ideas that aim to make communities a better place can receive up to $15,000.
Field Law says it encourages causes that support education, healthcare, at-risk youth, homelessness, women’s organizations, diversity, equality, sports, and arts and culture. It also encourages applications from organizations affected by the wildfires and evacuations in the NWT or who may be supporting evacuees and recovery efforts.
Charitable organizations, community associations and individuals in Alberta and the NWT have until October 2 to apply.
9:00 – Morning from Edzo everyone.
8:45 – This is Ollie signing off from Fort Simpson for a final time. I’ll be back with you from Fort Providence (or even the highway heading to Fort Providence) later. Thank you, Lady Slipper Lodge and Fort Simpson, Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́, for your incredible hospitality these past three weeks. It is hugely appreciated and is a large part of the reason why I feel like I’m returning home with sanity vaguely intact. Mahsi cho.
Switching now to the voice of Emily Blake in Edzo as we continue coverage of this wildfire crisis.
7:51 – Yellowknife city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett reiterates that if you’re on trucked water and sewer, full service delivery will return as of Thursday. If you’re on the mains, run your lines for a few minutes when you get back. Otherwise, she says, just treat your return as though you were coming back from a vacation. Garbage pickup starts again on Thursday, which will carry on until the end of September as a regular garbage pickup, then organics will resume from October 2. The dump will be open Thursday to Sunday for its regular hours, you can drop off residential waste at no cost. (No large items or construction waste, an amnesty day for that will be coming up.)
7:45 – Normally I feel like a frosty morning would send Yellowknife’s gardeners into a frenzy, but I’m assuming the ship has now sailed for any hope on behalf of the city’s gardens, yes? (That is, anything that wasn’t already harvested to feed firefighters.)
7:43 – “The city is ready. It’s a frosty morning right now,” says Rebecca Alty, Yellowknife’s mayor, speaking to the CBC’s phone-in show. The GNWT’s Jay Boast says: “Gas stations along the way are well aware of people coming through, they are well-stocked.”
7:42 – From Alison, who’s in Whitecourt:
“On Saturday, in a moment of ill-advised initiative, our five-year-old washed her sneakers in some deep water. And by washed, I mean entirely submerged them and soaked them to the core. After this, she decided that she should have stuck with dry grubby sneakers, and refused to wear the somewhat clean sopping footwear.
“A day into carrying our barefooted kid everywhere, and with her shoes showing no sign of drying out any time soon, we caved and, on Sunday, decided to go to Walmart to buy some new ones.
“When we came back from shoe shopping, we found a grocery bag with some new kids’ clothes inside our unlocked mini-van. At first we assumed someone had simply got the wrong car and thought we should return the bag to customer service. Our van is really dirty though, and messy, and our dog was in it, which made it hard to believe anyone could mistake the vehicle for their own. Upon closer inspection, we discovered the clothes were the right sizes for our two school-aged kids. We finally came to the conclusion that someone had seen our NWT plates (and maybe our shoeless kid) and had generously gifted us with some back-to-school shopping.
“Needless to say, the kids were thrilled and we were very touched by this gesture and by the generosity of strangers. It is a strange thing indeed to receive a gift without knowing who to thank! I was compelled to share the story because I feel we need to voice our appreciation to someone, somehow. We have also paid it forward by making a donation to the Yellowknife Women’s Society.”
Amazing story. Thanks for sending that one in!
Alison did add: “If anyone reading this did in fact misplace their back to school shopping by accidentally putting it in a maroon mini-van full of luggage and dog fur, please reach out to me and we can make this right.”
7:30 – If you missed it, in last night’s live coverage we had some useful information from the checkpoint west of Yellowknife. Here’s what to expect:
“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,” writes Candace, who crossed the checkpoint on Monday.
“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.”
7:24 – The Dettah fire is active on its southern front but hasn’t grown closer to Dettah, Mike Westwick says. No change to the Yellowknife and Ingraham Trail fires.
“We’re going to be managing all these fires all the way till the snow falls,” he says.
Roll on ski season, eh?
7:22 – “We don’t believe fire activity is going to compromise the highway over the next 72 hours,” Mike Westwick continues, reiterating a message from yesterday.
7:21 – “Today we have clear conditions, a little bit cooler, winds from the south-southwest and a decent bit of moisture in the air. That should tamp down fire activity,” NWT Fire’s Mike Westwick just told the CBC.
“Yesterday, even after more than 25 mm of rain, we were seeing torching – when a single tree or small group lights up – in the forest by late morning. That’s testament to the dry conditions this area has been experiencing for a long time. This fire season doesn’t show any sign of stopping.
“If we look at the long-term forecast for next week, we may see temperatures back up beyond 20C. It’s truly extraordinary.”
In Fort Smith, Westwick says work continues to pick off spot fires and strengthen containment lines. “The fire hasn’t progressed closer toward any of the other communities” except the Thebacha area, where it’s now 300 metres or so away, he says.
7:06 – The air in Enterprise this morning is a moderately grim 269 on our air quality map. (0 is the best, the scale is open-ended and I’ve seen places hit 700 or more in periods of utterly atrocious smoke.)
Fort Providence is a perfectly acceptable 46, here in Fort Simpson we score 26, and Yellowknife’s various air quality monitors are showing anywhere from 11 to 55. We don’t have monitors along Highway 3, though – based on the accounts below, steel yourself for smoke heading toward the city.
For the sake of comparison, the air quality index in Edmonton this morning is about 100, and Calgary is around 170.
7:02 – From Alexandra, who did the Edmonton-Yellowknife drive yesterday: “Lots of smoke, tankers, toilets and RCMP.”
This is the most succinct travel update Cabin Radio has yet received.
Vanessa was a little more loquacious: “Highway was awesome all the way from Edmonton up, despite travelling through the horrible devastation of Enterprise,” she writes.
“After Fort Providence things changed a bit as it was dusk [and we] started coming into smoke. Once we passed the checkpoint, the smoke was really bad in parts and we had to really slow down.”
7:00 – From my colleague Aastha: Fort Smith’s residents have been gone for more than three weeks, but there are still plenty of dogs – and other pets – in the town that need to be fed and exercised. Meet the volunteers keeping four-legged residents alive.
6:54 – Cameron’s Mobile Mechanic Service says on Facebook it is now patrolling the highway from Fort Providence to Enterprise with emergency gas and towing capability.
If you see anyone stranded or needing assistance in that area, call 867-765-8914 or 587-334-5653 when safe to do so and the company will be able to help them.
6:51 – Coming up this morning, CBC North has a Q&A show with the City of Yellowknife and GNWT at 7:30am. Then, Cabin Radio’s live video morning show starts at 8am. We’ll have an update from Emily in Edzo on the show, after doing the drive from Fort Simpson yesterday.
(To get around Meta’s ban on news, the live video show appears via my Facebook profile. All being well, I’ll be back in our Yellowknife studios for Thursday morning, and that morning’s show will mark a return to our regular audio live stream – where you’ll get news, chat and quality music like our evacuation playlist.)
6:46 – Highways update: you have a clear shot from Alberta to Yellowknife right now, with Highway 1 and Highway 3 both open, no issues reported.
Highway 7 remains closed south of Fort Liard. I think we might get some movement on that this morning but as of this moment, both Highway 7 to the BC border and Highway 77 on the other side are showing as closed.
6:39 – This is my last morning live-texting from Lady Slipper Lodge in Fort Simpson. We’ve been writing these things minute by minute for more than three weeks now. That is hard for me to grasp.
Today, I’ll be handing over the live to Emily Blake in Edzo from mid-morning, then relocating to Fort Providence. As the window opens for Yellowknife’s general population to return tomorrow, I’ll give you initial updates from Fort Providence then head to Yellowknife when it’s safe to do so, to give you a sense of the journey and how the city is looking. Stand by for that.
First, we have some more essential workers to get safely back in the hutch today.