Smoke plumes over Hay River and Kátł’odeeche First Nation on September 12, 2023. Photo: GNWT
The Northwest Territories government has extended the registration period for flights back to Hay River and Fort Smith.
Evacuees originally had until Thursday at 8pm to sign up. They now have until 5pm on Friday to call 1-888-383-6649 or register online,
The territory said around 700 people have registered for re-entry flights so far.
Meanwhile, NWT Fire said some people returning to Hay River by road are getting in the way of fire crews in burned areas of the community.
At the moment, only essential workers are being told to head back to the town.
NWT Fire said it had received “really troubling reports from our division supervisors about reckless driving where crews are at work around the Lagoon Road,” a fire-hit area west of Hay River’s downtown core, “and generally folks starting to get in the way of firefighting operations.”
The battle against wildfires continues outside both Hay River and Fort Smith.
On Wednesday, NWT Fire said a controlled burn designed to protect Hay River and the Kátł’odeeche First Nation from an area of fire to the east had been successful.
Essential workers are continuing to make the journey back to those communities ahead of the expected return of most residents early next week.
Thursday’s forecast suggested a chance of showers across the South Slave, while the morning brought rain over Yellowknife.
On this page, we’re bringing you updates throughout Thursday.
17:50 – That’s a wrap on today’s live coverage. We’ll be back with live updates tomorrow.
17:03 – Flight pre-registration for evacuees from Hay River, Kátł’odeeche First Nation and Fort Smith has extended until 5pm tomorrow. You can call 1-888-383-6649 today until 10pm or tomorrow between 8am and 5pm. You can also register online. Anyone with questions can email email@example.com
16:59 – GNWT says they are livestreaming press conferences on their Facebook page again, and you’ll be able to find the recording there afterwards.
16:57 – “We absolutely intend to learn from this experience,” Premier Caroline Cochrane says.
16:50 – CBC asked a question about the GNWT’s website being down. The government says it’s back up.
16:48 – In response to a question from CKLB, Enterprise Mayor St Amour says they are looking at “all options,” including interim housing and local hotels, for housing residents who have lost homes.
“Anything’s possible,” he said, adding that the focus is on getting people home.
16:45 – Enterprise Mayor Michael St Amour says they paused their re-entry plan, the same time that Hay river paused theirs earlier this week, due to volatile wildfire conditions. He says they plan to begin looking at it again tomorrow but it will be “tricky” as many homes were destroyed.
16:41 – In response to a question from NNSL, the GNWT says about 700 people have pre-registered for re-entry flights.
16:34 – Wildfire information officer Mike Westwick says crews have started structure protection on Defeat Lake. But he says neither Dettah nor Ingraham trail currently at threat from the wildfire.
Dettah fire ZF085 remains classified as out-of-control and is burning 29km southeast of the community.
For all evacuees who are or have returned home, he says wildfires will be continued to managed until the snow falls.
16:32 – Jay Boast, a spokesperson for the Territorial Emergency Management Organization, says evacuees who have registered, will begin receiving calls for re-entry flights for tomorrow. Pre-registration for residents from Hay River, Kátł’odeeche First Nation and Fort Smith, closes tonight.
16:27 – Fort Smith’s Deputy Mayor Jay Macdonald says the plan is for residents to return as soon as Monday. He cautioned those with underlying health conditions that air quality in the town could be very poor and people needing additional supports may want to check resource availability before returning home. A welcome centre with mental health supports and other resources has been set up.
16:24 – Enterprise Mayor Michael St Amour says there are still hotspots in the community. NWT Fire said earlier today firefighters were working to help address those hotspots with the community government.
St Amour says GNWT assessors on site to assess properties, then they plan to complete an environmental assessment.
16:21 – Hay River Mayor Kandis Jameson says town council will meet tomorrow to review wildfire conditions and progress. If they are favourable, she said the general public could begin returning home this weekend. Once they do, she encourages people to shop local.
16:18 – Kátł’odeeche First Nation Chief April Martel says the First Nation has been working on a re-entry plan. She said she has also been advocating on behalf of NWT Indigenous groups to the federal government.
“The hours are long,” she said.
Essential workers have started returning to the reserve to prepare it for general re-entry. The chief said they will also be testing water and air quality.
16:13 – Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek says the GNWT’s previously projected surplus of $178 million is now expected to be down to $5 million, primarily due to the costs of wildfire and evacuation response. But she said the territory’s overall fiscal outlook remains “stable” in the long-term.
16:06 – Aanddd the press conference is now underway with the usual “please mute your mics and turn your cameras off” reminder for the media.
16:03 – Hello everyone. You can watch the press conference livestream on CBC. The City of Yellowknife says it is no longer streaming the GNWT’s wildfire updates on its webcast page. I have asked the GNWT if they plan to resume livestreaming the press conferences, or where people might be able to find recorded versions once they are over, but have not yet heard back.
15:58 – The GNWT press conference is just about to start. Switching now to the voice of Emily Blake, who will guide you through that press conference and beyond.
15:42 – The Anglo American Foundation, a charity associated with De Beers, is giving United Way NWT $200,000. The charity says it also gave $70,000 back in May to support the wildfire relief efforts that were starting at the time.
Diavik donated $250,000 to United Way NWT last month.
15:40 – The latest from NWT Fire on Hay River:
Conditions “support moderate to high fire activity with growth possible to the east,” and there is a “potentially challenging weekend of fire activity” coming up, particularly Friday, where the high could be 25C or so with winds pushing the fire north.
“Those returning to the Kátł’odeeche First Nation and Hay River in the coming days should be prepared to see significant fire activity to the east of the river – including large plumes of smoke,” NWT Fire continues.
“That does not necessarily mean it is not safe – a lot of work has been done to secure the Hay River corridor and First Nation (where further protections exist because the burned area from May surrounds the most populated areas of the reserve).”
This afternoon’s update adds: “Scans have revealed significant hotspots remaining within the community of Enterprise. This will need to be addressed going forward in collaboration with the community.”
15:23 – Yellowknife’s farmers’ market says it’s coming back for an extra week to make up for some lost time because of the evacuation. It’ll be a thing on Tuesday, September 19.
14:36 – Want quick summaries for each wildfire? Don’t forget we have those updated daily here. (Thanks, Emily, for updating that page just now.)
14:29 – Volunteer fire crews from Alberta’s Brazeau County came to help Hay River, a meaningful deployment for a small community that just survived its own evacuation.
14:00 – Stores in Hay River and Fort Smith are starting to post their own reopening plans. Here’s Home Hardware’s hours in Hay River for the next little while. (If you want to share your opening hours for a store or business in those communities, drop me an email.)
13:11 – Look, sod the wildfires for a minute, go and read this and watch the video: From the stage at Yellowknife’s Gold Range to a reality TV show in Hungary, Karen Novak is dazzling a whole new nation with her vocals and energy.
12:37 – From the NWT Power Corporation in Fort Smith:
“All occupied residences in Bell Rock have been re-energized. As customers return to the area, they will find an information package near their main entrance with information on how to contact NTPC to have their power restored.
“Power in Salt River remains off and will remain so until the GNWT electrical inspector is able to inspect each connection to ensure power can be restored safely.
“Power also remains off in Thebacha due to fire proximity and to ensure fire crew safety. Structures will likely remain de-energized until the electrical inspector is able to tour the area and determine whether it is safe to restore power.”
12:33 – Here’s a little more on when to expect your Northwestel bill credit if you’re a customer.
11:56 – “Hey, Northwestel said I’d get a credit on my bill but I didn’t, what gives?”
We asked. Here’s the response from Northwestel: “There are a few different scenarios for customers depending on their bill date. If a customer’s bill date is prior to September 7, they will see credits on their October invoice. If a customer’s bill date is September 7 or later, they will see credits on their invoice received this month.”
11:54 – The latest from Parks Canada on the fires around Fort Smith:
“The Fort Smith area continues to be unseasonably warm and dry. Yesterday’s continued heavy smoke in the area significantly impacted helicopter operations for a second day. Ground-based firefighting operations were not affected.
“The smoke led to lower temperatures and higher relative humidity than forecast, which helped to suppress fire behaviour. The area received scattered showers overnight, with an accumulation of between 0.3 and 2.5 ml, which will help suppress fire behaviour today. However, due to historic levels of drought, the fire status will remain unchanged until significant precipitation is received.
“Today’s high is expected to reach 19C and a relative humidity of 50 percent. Northwesterly winds are expected with gusts up to 40 km/h shifting to southwesterly with winds at 10-15 km/h.
“Hot, dry and windy conditions are expected to return Friday and Saturday, potentially leading to increased fire behaviour. Temperatures remain approximately 5C higher than the seasonal average.”
11:51 – If you had to leave your dog behind in Fort Smith when you left, here’s how to get it back.
11:47 – From resident Cabin Radio comedian Emily Blake: Cabin Radio is considering planning a comedy night for late October to bring folks together and maybe raise some funds for wildfire recovery. If you’re interested in performing, send us a message.
11:42 – From NWT Fire regarding Hay River’s Lagoon Road, which is the road past the likes of Castaways Cottages to the west of the downtown core, and is an area hit by wildfire during the second major flare-up of the fire in late August:
“We’ve received some really troubling reports from our division supervisors about reckless driving where crews are at work around the Lagoon Road, and generally folks starting to get in the way of firefighting operations.
“As traffic increases in town, we know you’re wanting to look at all that’s happened here. We totally get it – you’ve all seen a lot of places you care about be hit by fire and there’s a natural curiosity that comes with that as you head home after a long, stressful second time away.
“Please – throughout the corridor, drive safely, drive slower than you normally would, and give firefighters and heavy equipment the space and consideration to do the important work still ahead to keep this place safe. There’s firefighters active all throughout and we need them to be safe while they’re doing that work.”
11:17 – I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who has sent messages and gifts this week. This is not the normal experience for a newsroom and we’re all very grateful. We have had everything from entire lunches to craft beer to orange and haskap berry muffins (those were a winner).
It is a genuine joy to be your reporting team. Thanks for being such amazing communities of people to work for and alongside.
11:11 – Details on tow trucks available while heading home to the South Slave by car:
Andy’s Auto Services will patrol Highway 2 starting today from 8am till 10pm daily with emergency fuel, tire change, towing and boosting available. Call 867-875-8527 or 867-875-7990.
Ernie’s Automotive will cover Highway 5 from Hay River to Fort Smith, call 867-875-7288.
11:08 – From KFN: “Some essential workers are driving home taking videos with their phone. Please don’t take videos and drive, pull over as this is dangerous for the emergency fire crews on the highway.”
11:05 – Every now and again, casting my eye over the draft reporting that’s waiting to be finalized and published, I see a headline that makes me think: “Pretty sure a lot of people are going to enjoy reading that.”
I’ve just seen one of those headlines. Fun story coming your way soon.
11:03 – Wondering when you’ll get your flight confirmation after registering? This was a big deal (and pretty big problem) for some Yellowknife evacuees.
“Please note that the GNWT will contact evacuees who pre-register with their flight confirmations after the pre-registration period closes,” the territorial government states.
“This is dependent on community re-entry dates and confirmations could be issued as early as Friday, September 15.”
11:01 – Our business restart page has been updated. New in the past day or so: information on counselling and therapy, registration at Collège Nordique, and a firefighter discount at The Gallery of the Midnight Sun.
10:27 – Here’s a little more advice on what to do with your water tank if you’re heading home to the South Slave soon.
9:39 – This just in from the NWT’s chief environmental health officer:
“The chief environmental health officer is advising all residents returning from evacuation with water holding tanks for drinking water in the Hay River and surrounding area, Kátł’odeeche First Nation, and Fort Smith area to take the following measures to ensure safe drinking water: Drain the water in the holding tank and request a refill of fresh treated water, and flush all water lines with fresh water for 15 minutes.
“The notice applies to any commercial and private facilities which have water holding tanks for drinking water.
“This advisory is precautionary in nature and is due to the standing of drinking water for over four weeks in tanks. There have been no illnesses associated with drinking water reported in the community.”
9:03 – This message is for NWT residents who have lost homes because of fires over the past few months, or anyone reading this who knows someone in that situation.
We’re working on some reporting that follows the process people who’ve lost their homes now face. What’s next and what do the challenges and supports look like? If that’s you, what help are you returning to? What are you planning to do? Who have you talked to (insurers, governments, friends, companies, family, neighbours, others) and what do they say?
If you’re happy to speak with my colleague Simona about this, let her know. It is, of course, a subject we intend to treat with great sensitivity, with a view to producing reporting that can help others in similar situations.
8:47 – This map came in late last night from NWT Fire, showing in red the area burned so far by fire SS052. The lighter pink is the fire in May that caused the first evacuation of Hay River and KFN.
“Defences continue to hold throughout the Hay River corridor,” NWT Fire stated.
Conditions today suggest a chance of showers (per the Environment Canada forecast) but still quite warm for this time of year, with highs in the South Slave up around 20C.
8:44 – No major travel updates this morning. Highways 2 and 5 are open for essential workers (and Fort Resolution residents) only. Expect the use of pilot cars to help you home, depending on conditions.
Still need to register for a flight home? Here’s the link. The deadline is 8pm tonight, we’re told.
8:42 – Good morning! What a fantastic rainy morning here in Yellowknife. Long may that continue. Can I also recommend snow.