The latest news on the Northwest Territories wildfires as Yellowknife evacuates

YELLOWKNIFE — Residents of the Northwest Territories' capital and some neighbouring communities have been ordered to evacuate the area by Friday because of an encroaching wildfire.

Some evacuees are heading to reception centres in Alberta communities more than 1,000 kilometres to the south.

Here are the latest developments (all times are MT):

9 p.m.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan says in addition to the members of the Canadian Armed Forces providing personnel and resources in the firefighting and evacuation efforts in the Northwest Territories, federal support is being provided by Public Services and Procurement Canada, Indigenous Services Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard.

In a statement issued Thursday evening, Sajjan says the Government Operations Centre is working with federal and territorial partners to co-ordinate the response to the situation in the Northwest Territories and mobilize all necessary federal resources.

He says other federal departments and agencies are providing support through their own respective mandates to aid territorial and local authorities.

8 p.m.

Officials in Yellowknife say about 1,500 people were able to get out of the city today on 10 evacuation flights.

Jennifer Young, emergency management organization information officer, says they don't know how many people have left on scheduled flights.

She says another 22 evacuation flights are scheduled for Friday, which are expected to take 1,800 more people.


7:45 p.m.

Chris Greencorn, director of public works and engineering in Yellowknife, says the city completed some mitigation work with the help of some contractors.

He says crews used heavy equipment to create physical fire breaks that are 100 metres wide and have about 15,000 metres of length.

Greencorn says they have also distributed sprinklers and water cannons.

He says there is 20,000 metres of pipe and more than 50 pumps of various sources.

Greencorn says that will serve as the city's main line of defence.


7:30 p.m.

N.W.T. fire information officer Mike Westwick says crews were able to get some air tankers hitting targets on the fires all day.

He says they were also able to lay down fire retardant.

Westwick says the fire near Yellowknife is expected to have moved a little closer, but notes they were still doing some assessments.

He says they received a small amount of rain that he notes was no silver bullet.


5:45 p.m.

Dustin Martin and his family left Yellowknife before the evacuation order was put into place because he was watching the situation and thought it was better to leave.

He says during the long drive to Valleyview, Alta., there were areas without cell service, so it was hard to know if the highway was open, or if there was a place to eat or sleep.

He says the biggest challenge was getting information.

At the end of the day, Martin says things can be replaced but what’s most important is keeping his family safe.


5:15 p.m.

The Northwest Territories government says 90 inmates have been transferred to Yukon and Alberta due to the threat of wildfire.

The government says all inmates from the Fort Smith Correctional Complex and South Mackenzie Correctional Centre were previously evacuated to Yellowknife before residents in that city were told to leave late Wednesday.

The territory says for safety and security reasons, it will not disclose details related to contingencies and specific locations for inmate transfers.


4:40 p.m.

Alberta Health Services say 45 wildfire evacuees from the Northwest Territories have been placed in continuing care spaces throughout the province.

The health agency says Alberta is also preparing to support between 150 and 200 people who receive home care in the Northwest Territories.

AHS says about 19 dialysis patients are to receive care at various Alberta sites.

It says people at evacuations centres across the province are to have access to addictions and mental health services.


4:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has convened an urgent meeting with his incident response group over wildfires.

A readout from the federal government says the cabinet committee discussed wildfires across the country this year, including the current fires in the Northwest Territories and the evacuation of its capital.

Trudeau asked ministers to work with partners in the telecommunication sector to ensure that essential services remain available.

He also stressed there would be no tolerance for price escalation of airfare and essential goods for evacuees.


4:15 p.m.

Alberta is taking in inmates from the Northwest Territories.

The inmates are among thousands of residents from Yellowknife and other areas who have been forced from their communities due to raging wildfires.

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services Mike Ellis says in a social media post that inmates from the territory are being transferred to the Edmonton area.

He says they are to remain in the province for the duration of the evacuation.


3:45 p.m.

The city of Edmonton says it is to start accepting evacuees from Yellowknife on Friday.

It says it’s opening an evacuation centre at the Edmonton Expo Centre in the eastern part of the city.

The centre is to provide all immediate needs for evacuees including temporary lodging, food services, clothing, pet daycare and health care.

The city says evacuees can bring their pets, but are encouraged to not leave animals in vehicles due to the hot temperature expected.


3:30 p.m.

Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated says it is offering a one-time payment of $1,000 per Inuit household affected by wildfire in the Northwest Territories.

The organization is the legal representative of the Inuit of Nunavut for the purposes of treaty rights and negotiation.

It says the money aims to provide immediate relief to households affected by the evacuation orders, including those in Yellowknife, Enterprise, Fort Smith, Hay River and Jean Marie River.

The organization says Nunavut Inuit households with established addresses within the affected communities are automatically approved.


3:15 p.m.

The Canadian Armed Forces says about 120 of its members arrived in Yellowknife Monday to help with wildfire efforts in Northwest Territories.

It says that since then, Forces members have been conducting reconnaissance activities near Fort Smith and Hay River, and constructing firebreaks in and around Yellowknife and Dettah.

All non-essential Canadian Forces and Department of National Defence personnel have been ordered to follow the evacuation order of the Northwest Territories government.


3 p.m.

Vincent Meslage has been volunteering to drive people in Yellowknife to the local high school so they can register for evacuation flights.

The people he has spoken with are worried about their homes and the community as they prepare to flee south.

Meslage says while there is fear, he’s also witnessed many others step forward to help each other out during the trying time.

Meslage is an essential worker and will be staying behind.

He says it’s already much quieter in the capital city and he expects it to feel like a ghost town by Friday afternoon.


2:45 p.m.

The Giant Mine, an old gold mine in the Northwest Territories where more than 250,000 tonnes of arsenic is being stored underground, is being evacuated.

The mine is currently undergoing a billion-dollar cleanup and arsenic-contaminated material is sitting on the surface.

Fire information officer Mike Westwick says officials are aware of the potential hazard.


2:30 p.m.

The government of Saskatchewan says it is prepared to provide temporary accommodation for wildfire evacuees from the Northwest Territories if required.

The province says it has also deployed crew members to help with the firefighting efforts.

It says the group left from the airport in Prince Albert, Sask., this morning and is expected to be out of province for about two weeks.

Saskatchewan says 16 of its wildland firefighters have also been deployed to Yukon.


12:20 p.m.

A kilometre-long lineup has formed outside the Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife.

Residents without a car are waiting to board planes destined for Calgary after the territorial government told Yellowknifers to evacuate the city by Friday due to an encroaching wildfire.

Edward Fraser is with dozens of others from the city's homeless shelters patiently waiting to leave the city.

Fraser says thousands have been standing in line since he joined earlier this morning.

The 50-year-old is dealing with a dislocated shoulder and would prefer to stay in the city, but realizes the best thing to do is leave for his safety.

He's concerned about what kind of supports will be available for the homeless community when they arrive in Alberta.


12:10 p.m.

WestJet says it is adding two extra recovery flights today between Yellowknife and Calgary to help people evacuate areas threatened by wildfire.

The airline says it has also adjusted fare classes to avoid price escalation.

WestJet says it has added larger aircraft to operate previously scheduled flights between Calgary and Yellowknife and has increased its limit for pets allowed in cabins.

It says it has cancelled six flights on Friday and Saturday out of an abundance of caution.

WestJet says it is implementing more flexible policies for people wanting to change or cancel flights to Yellowknife between today and Tuesday.


11:33 a.m.

Angela Canning holds back tears as she talks about packing a camper with food, clothing and other survival items as she prepares to make a journey from Yellowknife south to Fort Providence, N.W.T.

Her husband has to stay behind as an essential worker, so she will be travelling alone with her two dogs.

Canning spent all her life in Yellowknife and never could have imagined the city would have to flee from a wildfire like this.

She says she’s in shock and anxious because she doesn’t know how long she will be away, or if she’ll have a home to return to.


11:13 a.m.

The city of Calgary says it's ready to take in thousands of evacuees as it provided more details on its plan to support the Northwest Territories wildfire response.

Iain Bushell, the city's director of emergency management, says a reception centre has been opened at the Calgary airport with five evacuation flights set to arrive today.

He says a second centre has been set up at a hotel for those who drive into the city.

Bushell says there's space for at least 5,000 evacuees, but the city will accommodate more if needed.


10:17 a.m.

The manager of a main gas station along the highway south of Yellowknife says the coffee is running low but she's arranged for enough fuel to supply thousands of wildfire evacuees.

Linda Croft says people fuelling up at the Big River Service Station are anxious but friendly.

She says the lines at the pumps have only grown since an evacuation was ordered for the capital of the Northwest Territories.

Some evacuees will be headed for reception centres in Alberta communities more than 1,000 kilometres to the south.


10:08 a.m.

The intensive care unit at a Yellowknife hospital is set to close within the day as the Northwest Territories health authority starts reducing its services with wildfires approaching.

The Health and Social Services Authority says on its website some services at the Stanton Territorial Hospital, including long-term care, are expected to be closed within the next 24 hours.

It says in-patient units will be moved to other locations in the coming days, if required, and most long-term care patients have been transferred to institutions to the south.

The emergency department remains open at normal service levels and will be maintained as a priority service.


9:45 a.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to convene an urgent meeting with ministers and senior officials today as wildfires close in on Yellowknife.

Residents have been ordered to evacuate the city with the fire about 16 kilometres to the its northwest boundary.

Trudeau, who is on vacation in Tofino, B.C., updated his itinerary today to include the urgent meeting, but it's not yet clear who else is expected to attend.

Residents of Yellowknife, which has a population of 20,000 people, and neighbouring communities have been ordered to leave by noon on Friday.


9:16 a.m.

The City of Calgary is scheduled to hold a media availability this morning to outline its plans to support and take in wildfire evacuees from the Northwest Territories.

The city’s emergency management director is set to speak at 11 a.m.

The territorial government says Yellowknife evacuees travelling by air to Alberta are being directed to Calgary.


9:16 a.m.

Evacuees from the Northwest Territories are finding refuge in cities with their own devastating history of wildfires.

Michel Labine says the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray, where 2016 wildfires resulted in one of the costliest disasters in Canadian history, has been extremely welcoming and helpful since he arrived on an emergency evacuation flight on Saturday.

Labine, who spent his career as a renewable resource officer dealing with wildlife and forest fires, says the smoke was so thick he couldn't see across the street when he fled his home in Fort Smith over the weekend.

He says he hopes his home is still standing when he can return.


9:00 a.m.

British Columbia Premier David Eby (EE'-bee) says the province is working actively to help those evacuated from wildfires in the Northwest Territories.

A statement from the premier's office says B.C. and the western provinces are working with officials from the territory.

Eby says B.C. is ready to help the people of the Northwest Territories, just as other provinces have assisted his province in times of need.


8:51 a.m.

Leaders from across the territories are pledging their support for those fleeing wildfires in the Northwest Territories.

Whitehorse mayor Laura Cabott says the city is finalizing plans to offer logistics and humanitarian supports for as long as needed.

The government of Nunavut says it's in regular contact with the Northwest Territories to determine what help it can provide.


8:24 a.m.

Officials in Northwest Territories say the evacuation has so far been safe and orderly as convoys flee wildfires in the territorial capital.

Fire Information Officer Mike Westwick says convoys organized by government emergency workers have started to evacuate Yellowknife's outskirts and northern edge, where a wildfire is just 16 kilometres away.

Strong north winds today could push the fire towards the highway needed for the evacuation, so Westwick says the goal is to have everyone out of the city of 20,000 by tomorrow at noon.


8:14 a.m.

A reception centre just south of Edmonton is set to open its doors to wildfire evacuees from the South Slave region of Northwest Territories.

The centre in Leduc, Alta., was slated to open at 8 a.m. for evacuees from the region, including Hay River and Enterprise, after centres in St. Albert and Grande Prairie reached capacity.

The territorial government says evacuees from Yellowknife who can’t find their own accommodations can head to centres in Valleyview, Fox Creek or Red Deer, Alta., which are all due to open at noon.


7:53 a.m.

No new wildfires have been reported in the Northwest Territories in the last 24 hours, but that is scant relief as 236 blazes are already burning — including fires threatening Yellowknife and Hay River.

A wildfire update posted by the territory says more than 21-thousand square kilometres have already been burned.

Officials reported overnight that there was some progress on the fire moving toward Hay River, saying the situation had taken a turn in their favour.

They say winds have been pushing the fire back onto itself, stalling the flames about 10 kilometres from the community on the south shore of Great Slave Lake.


7:40 a.m.

A phased evacuation of Yellowknife is underway as a wildfire approaches.

Officials in the Northwest Territories capital are urging everyone to be out of the city by noon on Friday.

They say without rain, the blaze will likely reach the outskirts of the city by the weekend and, even though a few millimetres of rain are forecast for the region, first responders are taking no chances.

They warn significant growth is expected today on the fire's south flank, towards Great Slave Lake, Highway 3, and the Ingraham Trail.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Aug. 17, 2023.

The Canadian Press