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As it happened: Hay River and KFN provide finalized return dates

A firefighter at work on the Hay River/Kátł’odeeche First Nation fire on September 7, 2023. Photo:GNWT


Hay River residents can come home from Saturday morning, the town announced on Friday evening.

“Wildland fire and structural protection crews have worked tirelessly to contain the perimeter of the fire within the community that has held up during the recent challenging events,” the town stated in an evening Facebook post, referring to the past week of extreme fire activity.

The town said its re-entry plan and the current conditions together “meet the identified acceptable risk level set by council.”

The Kátł’odeeche First Nation separately said residents can come home as of 9am on Sunday.



Meanwhile, Highway 1 between Jean Marie River and the Highway 3 intersection entered a cycle of closures on Friday as a wildfire burned nearby.

A fire in the vicinity of the Redknife River burned across the highway on Thursday. Closures in that area don’t affect the route between Alberta and Yellowknife, but do affect traffic hoping to reach the South Slave from the Dehcho or BC.

Registration for re-entry flights from Alberta to Hay River and Fort Smith closed at 5pm on Friday. The extension was understood to be at least partly driven by a suspected cyberattack that disrupted access to the NWT government’s website on Thursday.

Flights to Hay River will operate on Sunday, the GNWT told evacuees, with flights to Fort Smith leaving on Monday.



On this page, we brought you updates throughout Friday.

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.

You can also check out our guide to how Yellowknife businesses are reopening and the offers they have for returning residents.

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  • To tell us about someone amazing who deserves a shoutout for what they’re doing or did, email us here
  • Heading home? Please email us updates about highway conditions or your flight experience
  • Still an evacuee? Tell us how it’s going where you are. What are your concerns and what’s keeping you going right now?
  • Send photos and video of your experience by emailing us here

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

Live text reporter: Ollie Williams in Yellowknife

18:49 – After that flurry of evening activity, we’re going to wrap up live coverage. Thanks for reading! We’re really excited for everyone who gets to go home, realizing that what awaits you at home may vary significantly. We hope the weekend goes as well as it can for everyone involved, and we’ll be right there for Fort Smith’s return in the days ahead, too, not to mention Enterprise.



Have a good weekend, all.

18:46 – The bad news? We won’t have a live updates page for you on Saturday. Cabin Radio isn’t part of these discussions (which is fair) and there’s no way we can schedule Saturday cover having found out about the Saturday plan at 6:30pm on Friday. I apologize for that. We may or may not have a live page for Sunday.

But we will run our regular weekend service of full breaking news coverage throughout, so if anything important occurs – highway disruption, for example – it’ll be right here as soon as we get it.

18:44 – Here’s a full report on the Saturday return date for Hay River and Sunday date for KFN, with important extra information about each.

18:32 – Never mind, here it is: Hay River says Saturday, September 16 at 9am is when residents can return. Even earlier than originally planned.

“Under unified command, wildland fire and structural protection crews have worked tirelessly to contain the perimeter of the fire within the community that has held up during the recent challenging events,” the town just stated.

“These conditions, in conjunction with identified controls of the re-entry plan, meet the identified acceptable risk level set by council.”

18:31 – Air Tindi says it is” happy to announce the resumption of our regular scheduled service to Hay River as of September 18,” which is Monday.



(Again, I hope the town’s open by then! God help Hay River town council if they decide, actually, let’s give it a week.)

18:26 – This letter was being handed to evacuees in Edmonton today:

Recognizing that the photo above isn’t the easiest to read, here are the most important lines:

Hay River evacuees in Alberta … will need to check out of their hotel accommodations by Sunday, September 17. Sunday will be the only day for GNWT-paid re-entry flights from Alberta to Hay River. The GNWT is calling evacuees who pre-registered to book them on flights on Sunday, September 17. If you haven’t heard from the GNWT by 8pm Saturday, September 16, please email If you wish to remain in your hotel past September 17, you will be required to provide a new method of payment for your room.

Fort Smith evacuees in Alberta … will need to check out of their hotel accommodations by Monday, September 18. Monday will be the only day for GNWT-paid re-entry flights from Alberta to Fort Smith. The GNWT is calling evacuees who pre-registered to book them on flights on Monday, September 18. If you haven’t heard from the GNWT by 8pm Sunday, September 17, please email If you wish to remain in your hotel past September 18, you will be required to provide a new method of payment for your room.

“As the evacuation orders in the Enterprise have not yet been downgraded, accommodations for Enterprise evacuees are still available until further notice.”

That’s the first I’ve seen of Hay River and Fort Smith flight dates being confirmed by the GNWT.

18:22 – Here’s full detail on KFN’s announcement that residents can come home on Sunday morning. Still awaiting a Hay River equivalent.



18:14 – The Kátł’odeeche First Nation just said residents can go home as of Sunday at 9am. More follows.

18:08 – Still no word regarding a finalized Hay River return date. NWT municipalities, they love a bit of Friday-evening evacuee drama.

(I’m sure they probably actually don’t.)

In the meantime, the GNWT has formally acknowledged suffering a denial-of-service attack aimed at its website earlier this week.

17:58 – Fort Simpson’s ferry is likely to face weight restrictions this weekend. Low water levels have been a worry there for a while.

17:13 – No news on a firm re-entry date for Hay River residents yet. We were expecting council to meet and discuss that subject this afternoon, but I don’t have any intel on said meeting. Remember, Sunday is only a tentative date, still, at this point.

17:10 – The region-wide fire bans in the North Slave and South Slave have been extended till September 22.

17:09 – I had someone ask about the helicopter bucketing from Long Lake this afternoon and heading off away from Yellowknife. NWT Fire says it isn’t a new fire, it’s just regular work on our old friends ZF015 and ZF085.



16:59 – Here I am trying to cover a major disaster but no, we have to have a commissioner ruling on politicians falling out with each other. Here’s a full report on that.

What do we have to do for there to be a better tone to the next legislature? Is it genuinely not possible, any more, to find 19 people who can bear to be in a room together finding solutions?

16:40 – Oh come on, a press release from the MLAs’ integrity commissioner at 4:40pm on a Friday?

16:34 – This update is based on an email received from Lana, who recounted a frankly very stressful-sounding tale of being rescued by a series of tow trucks while driving home to Yellowknife a week ago, and being given various accounts of what highway supports, exactly, the GNWT was offering, before ultimately having to pay more than $1,000 to get towed home from Fort Providence.

So we asked the GNWT what you should know if you have to resort to a tow truck while driving home to Hay River or Fort Smith, given the territorial government has tow trucks patrolling those highways right now.

“Tow trucks patrolling the highways to assist returning evacuees are emergency services only. The intent is to clear the road to keep traffic flowing and ensure the safety of all travellers,” the Department of Infrastructure told us.

“In most cases, tow trucks remove vehicles off the road and, if resources allow, bring vehicles to the nearest safe community to allow travellers to make arrangements.

“Due to the limited number of tow trucks, towing vehicles to further communities would negate the safety benefits as the truck would be out of commission for an unreasonable amount of time.”



In other words, the tow truck will get you to the nearest safe place – whether or not there’s a mechanic there – and then you’re on your own, so bear that in mind. The GNWT service is not, we are told, going to get you all the way home for free in the event of a major issue with your vehicle.

16:31 – A message to you from Fort Smith: bears. And other issues to be aware of when you head home.

16:26 – You slope off for one dog walk and it all starts happening. Stand by for a few updates.

15:07 – PS less than two hours to pre-register for a flight, if you haven’t already.

15:04 – Highway 1 has closed again between Jean Marie River and Highway 3.

14:29 – Hello to Bill at Alexandra Falls park, who says be prepared to see spot fires on the drive home. Flames up to 10 or 15 feet high have been occasionally visible from the highway, he said.

13:56 – If you’re a member, the Kátł’odeeche First Nation – crediting the Alberta government – has a gas gift card announcement.

13:31 – Quick message from the Department of Infrastructure on the Highway 1 front, regarding the section between Jean Marie River and Highway 3: “There remains wildfire activity in that area, so we’re reminding travellers to be prepared for sudden delays or closures on that section of the highway over the next few days.”



13:22 – Parks Canada says “90 percent of the northern perimeter” of the Wood Buffalo fire complex is now considered contained or controlled.

“Warm, dry and windy conditions are forecast to return to the Fort Smith area over the next three days, bringing with them a potential for increased fire activity,” reads a Friday afternoon update.

“Today’s high is expected to reach mid-20Cs and a relative humidity of around 25 percent. Southwesterly winds are forecast to be 15 km/h, gusting to 35 km/h.

“Firefighters are making good progress, but more time is needed before the communities surrounding Fort Smith will be ready for residents to return.”

Parks Canada adds: “The fire perimeter along Highway 5 is now considered controlled, and crews are beginning to demobilize equipment.”

12:20 – It is extremely quiet, today, in terms of actual detail on what’s happening to wildfires in the South Slave. We do know there is some concern that there could be an active weekend ahead.

Both Hay River and Fort Smith are expected to reach 20C on each of Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with some sunshine and dry weather. I realize we’ve spent months now parked in the 20Cs or higher across much of the NWT, but that just isn’t the normal mid-September high, even for the South Slave. An ordinary fall day in Hay River would peak at around 12-13C.

11:41 – The GNWT says Highway 1 has reopened. It was previously closed between Jean Marie River and Highway 3 because of a wildfire near Redknife River.



11:20 – Parents of Yellowknife! Exciting news, your Monday morning just got booked. The city says registration for fall recreational programming opens at 9am that day. Good luck!

10:58 – YKDFN says it has received funding to give out gift cards for food. They’re being given out at the wellness office in Ndılǫ from 3-8pm today. Eligibility rules are on YKDFN’s Facebook page.

10:32 – We’ve checked in with the three Yellowknife school districts, the South Slave Divisional Education Council and the Tłįchǫ Community Services Agency. All report no staffing concerns resulting from the recent evacuations.

(There had been rumours of teachers either deciding not to take up positions or being unable to take them up because of the weeks-long delay to the start of the academic year in parts of the NWT. None of the districts we contacted said they had experienced any such issue.)

10:26 – Praise for people doing great things at all stages of the evacuations is still coming in. From Roger:

“I evacuated on the Tuesday night before the order. A bearded young man filled my tank at Gastown and said he would keep the pumps on all night in order to help people leave early, for those who wanted to. I thanked him and began the exodus to High Level.”

10:23 – From the Town of Hay River:

“Hay River Council is confirming a meeting time later today to consider the containment efforts against planned to determine when there will be an acceptable risk level for the general public to return.



“Currently there is a cat guard in place from the airport to Mile 10 and across the river south of KFN. Scanning indicates a few hotspots that are being addressed. Most of the fire activity is still to the east in the Sandy Creek area. Structural protection continues to focus on the Sandy Creek lodge and out buildings.

“The NWT will be contacting those that have pre-registered and has tentatively scheduled flights starting on Sunday. This is contingent on the general public return dates when set.”

9:29 – A reminder that we’re expecting Hay River’s town council to meet today, with an expectation that the re-entry timeline for residents could be finalized immediately afterward. (At the moment, Sunday is still a tentative date rather than a final one.)

9:23 – Gladys Norwegian has shared photos of the Redknife River fire from last night.

“There was no barricade anywhere to indicate that the road was closed driving towards Fort Simpson,” she wrote on Facebook. “We found ourselves caught in a fire between Redknife and Morrisey Creek. Luckily it wasn’t for long, but what a hair-raising experience.”

8:58 – Recapping other news bits:

8:47 – This morning, Emily has a detailed report speaking with multiple evacuees who were pregnant at the time they were ordered to leave. In interviews, they described challenges in the following weeks that ranged from the frustrating to the horrifying.

8:36 – As of 8:30am, there was no update to Highway 1 between Jean Marie River and the Highway 3 intersection over night. It looks like a wildfire crossed the highway near the Redknife River on Thursday. Here’s the GNWT highway conditions map, which we always recommend as the last word in such things.

Note that the current highway closure doesn’t affect the road route from Yellowknife to Alberta or vice versa, or the road home for any South Slave essential workers unless you’re trying to get there via the Dehcho.

8:33 – Morning! What a world, eh. What a world.