Smoke from southern fires blankets Yellowknife and other N.W.T. communities

Wildfire smoke turned skies orange in Yellowknife's downtown on the morning of Sep. 23. (Carson Asmundson - image credit)
Wildfire smoke turned skies orange in Yellowknife's downtown on the morning of Sep. 23. (Carson Asmundson - image credit)

People in many N.W.T. communities awoke Saturday to orange skies as south winds brought thick smoke up from fires in Northern Alberta.

In Yellowknife, the poor air quality prompted the city to cancel a gathering Saturday meant to welcome people back after the wildfire evacuation.

Peppie Beaulieu, who lives in Yellowknife, said the sky was so dark when he woke up that he assumed it was very early in the morning — even though it was 9:30 a.m., two hours after the sun rose.

"It doesn't feel right," he said.

Air quality is dangerously bad in almost half of Northwest Territories communities Saturday.

Environment Canada issued special air quality warnings for 14 communities, covering most of the North Slave and South Slave regions, as well as some Dehcho communities.

According to N.W.T. Fire, the smoke many communities are seeing today is not caused by any growth of fires in the territory.

Yellowknife City Hall, about a half hour before the city cancelled a 'welcome back' event planned for community members on Sep. 23 due to poor air quality from wildfire smoke.
Yellowknife City Hall, about a half hour before the city cancelled a 'welcome back' event planned for community members on Sep. 23 due to poor air quality from wildfire smoke.

Yellowknife City Hall, about a half hour before the city cancelled a 'welcome back' event planned for community members on Sep. 23 due to poor air quality from wildfire smoke. (Sarah Krymalowski)

"The threat level hasn't changed as a result of this smoke event in terms of the wildfire threat to communities," NWT Fire information officer Mike Westwick told CBC on Saturday.

Westwick said the smoke has mostly been brought in by a few different weather factors.

One is winds coming from the south, pushing smoke from Alberta fires into the Northwest Territories. Another reason is that the region is experiencing an atmospheric inversion, where cool air meeting warmer air "basically creates a barrier to smoke escaping from the atmosphere," Westwick said.

He also advised residents to take precautions with their health and stay inside and wear masks if they are noticing any changes in their breathing due to smoke or if they have any pre-existing respiratory conditions.


 
Yellowknife's welcome back event was originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon. The event was supposed to be a celebration for residents after the evacuation, complete with live music, bouncy castles, and face painting.

In a post announcing the event's cancellations on social media, the city wrote that "while it's an unfortunate outcome, the safety of everyone is our primary concern. Stay safe today, Yellowknife!"

The city also said it was hoping to host another similar event in the coming weeks.