Yellowknife declares state of local emergency due to wildfires in Northwest Territories

Click to play video: 'Canadian military airlifting residents out of Northwest Territories amid wildfires'
Canadian military airlifting residents out of Northwest Territories amid wildfires
WATCH: Canadian military airlifting residents out of Northwest Territories amid wildfires – Aug 15, 2023

The City of Yellowknife declared a state of local emergency due to surrounding wildfires on Monday night.

The declaration was passed at an emergency council meeting Monday evening, and the city says in a tweet it will ensure the community “can exercise precautionary practices and acquire the equipment and resources needed to keep Yellowknife safe.”

It said that could include taking over the use of vehicles or property to respond to the emergency, causing an evacuation for all or a portion of the community, or authorizing qualified people to provide services or aid in emergency responses.

Yellowknife city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellet said during the meeting the municipality is monitoring nearby wildfires with technical assistance from Environment and Climate Change Canada.

“We’re going to continue to monitor that, to gauge at what point it does make sense for us to say Yellowknifers in certain areas of the community that may be deemed to be at risk based on projected fire behaviour ,” she said at a meeting.

Story continues below advertisement

She added the state of local emergency declared Monday enables the community to mobilize as much equipment as possible.

On Sunday, strong winds pushed flames through a firebreak and within 30 kilometres of the territorial capital.

The city is not considered threatened, but the air is smoky and residents have been told to prepare to leave.

The city said in its social media post that it is not declaring an evacuation alert or order.

Military deploying to the Northwest Territories

The Canadian Armed Forces has also deployed troops to the Northwest Territories to help with firefighting efforts and logistical support as wildfires have triggered evacuation orders in Canada’s North.

The CAF said personnel being deployed to the region are expected to arrive on Tuesday and be there for two weeks.

In a news release issued Monday, the military said it is mobilizing 124 soldiers. The CAF said it would also be deploying a helicopter and a Twin Otter airplane to help with the emergency response.

“Canadian Armed Forces troops deployed to the Northwest Territories will be working in support of the NWT wildfire management teams already working to keep Northerners safe,” said Capt. Doug Layton, the deputy commander of Joint Task Force North.

Story continues below advertisement

The military said the majority of those deployed will help with firefighting work such as dousing hot spots.

Click to play video: 'Wildfires prompt evacuation orders in Northwest Territories'
Wildfires prompt evacuation orders in Northwest Territories

“As this situation evolves, the numbers of personnel and locations will be adjusted as needed to ensure our support complements and enhances territorial resources.

“This is a terrible, stressful time for our communities, and the CAF is here to be of service in this emergency.”

The military also confirmed 100 wildfire evacuees were flown to Fort McMurray via two Hercules aircraft on Monday.

The first flight arrived from Fort Smith and was carrying 75 people while the second flight arrived from Hay River and was carrying 25 people.

A photo of a Hercules aircraft used to bring wildfire evacuees from the Northwest Territories to Fort McMurray, Alta., on Monday. COURTESY: Colinda Laviolette

“While these two CC-130H aircraft have returned to their respective SAR postures (in Comox and Winnipeg), one CC-130J aircraft will arrive this evening and remain in Yellowknife for potential further evacuation tasks, and one CC-130J aircraft will remain in Trenton awaiting possible tasks,” the CAF said in an email to Global News.

Story continues below advertisement

Complicating the emergency response is that the wildfires have impacted communications infrastructure in the region.

“Currently Hay River, Fort Smith, Enterprise, Fort Providence, and Jean-Marie River are without internet, long distance phone or cellular service due to a wildfire in southern NWT,” a spokesperson for telecommunications company Northwestel told Global News.

“We are co-ordinating with the emergency management office to access sites and repair service as quickly as we can safely do so.”

Click to play video: '‘Driving through flames’: Thousands on evacuation order as NWT fires rage'
‘Driving through flames’: Thousands on evacuation order as NWT fires rage

Residents of a second town near the Alberta-Northwest Territories boundary were ordered to evacuate to safety Sunday evening due to encroaching wildfires, with a new fire meaning the only route out for one of the communities was by air.

An evacuation order was issued for residents in Hay River, NWT, earlier in the day, due to the risk of a wildfire that was approximately 60 kilometres away at the time.

Story continues below advertisement
A photo of a glowing sky where wildfires are burning near the border between Alberta and the Northwest Territories. COURTESY: Chris Voth

Hours later, an update on Hay River’s Facebook page said a fire had started near Paradise Gardens and Garden Road, impacting outbound traffic. It directed residents to instead evacuate to the Hay River airport for evacuation by air.

Another update nearly an hour later said data and voice communications to Hay River through service provider Northwestel had been compromised, limiting emergency responders’ communications, as well as to the public.

“Those in Hay River should muster at the Hay River airport,” the town’s last update said. “Air transportation is being arranged for this evening.”

Wildfires burning near the border between Alberta and the Northwest Territories have prompted evacuations. THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Northwest Territories government noted online that evacuation orders were also in effect for Enterprise and K’atl’odeeche First Nation because of the impacts of a fire on evacuation routes.

Story continues below advertisement

The community of Kakisa was also placed on an evacuation alert, with residents advised to be ready to leave on short notice.

It said the lightning-caused fire was approximately 27,000 hectares in size and increased fire activity due to extreme winds pushed it within two kilometres of the highway.

Earlier in the day, transportation authorities in the Northwest Territories said the highway out of another community near the Alberta boundary that was being evacuated due to wildfire had closed.

Authorities had been warning that Highway 5 into Fort Smith could be shut as nearby fires continued to burn, and on Sunday afternoon the territory’s infrastructure department said the route was no longer open.

Evacuation orders were issued Saturday for Fort Smith, with a population of about 2,000, as well as for Smith’s Landing First Nation and the Alberta hamlet of Fort Fitzgerald.

Fort Smith Mayor Fred Daniels said in a video posted online shortly before the highway shut that its closure could be imminent, and that the last evacuation bus would leave the community at 2 p.m. local time.

“Thank you for the awesome evacuation. It went smoothly,” Daniels said, while also thanking firefighters, EMS and wildfire crews.

Story continues below advertisement
Click to play video: 'Canada wildfires: Latest forecast shows higher-than-normal fire activity will continue into fall'
Canada wildfires: Latest forecast shows higher-than-normal fire activity will continue into fall

Daniels also noted the winds in Fort Smith were “really picking up” and that it would likely get very smoky in Fort Smith.

The town posted online that anyone remaining in the community should now shelter in place.

Highway 5 connects Fort Smith and the other evacuated communities with Hay River, near the south shore of Great Slave Lake, where many evacuees were being taken before that town was evacuated.

Several fires are burning in the vicinity but the ones that prompted the evacuation order for Fort Smith, according to an update issued by NWT Fire on Saturday evening, are the Wood Buffalo National Park wildfires.

Those fires are being fought by Parks Canada as well as firefighters from Alberta and the NWT.

Story continues below advertisement
Wildfire damage is seen in Enterprise, a hamlet in the South Slave Region of the Northwest Territories. COURTESY: Ronald Pierrot

Alberta Wildfire noted in an update Sunday afternoon that the Wood Buffalo fires are 432,320 hectares in size and are approximately 25 to 35 kilometres west and southwest of Fort Smith.

“Due to predicted weather and extreme fire behaviour over the next few days, a number of precautionary evacuation orders have been issued. While no communities are imminently threatened by this wildfire, there is concern over access via Highway 5, which has now been closed,” the Alberta update said.

Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo assists with evacuation effort

On Monday afternoon, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo confirmed to Global News that it is helping with evacuation efforts.

The municipality was devastated by 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, resulting in tens of thousands of people being evacuated and about 2,500 homes lost to the flames.

Story continues below advertisement

“The municipality is responding to a request from the Provincial Emergency Coordination Centre for assistance in connection with the wildfire evacuations in the Northwest Territories,” an RMWB spokesperson said in an email. “The municipality has activated its emergency social services team.

“So far, we have received two flights of evacuees from Fort Smith, totalling more than 110 people. We are expecting several more flights of evacuees from Hay River to arrive today. We are also expecting a number of evacuees to arrive by boat.”

The RMWB said it would not be able to provide a total number of evacuees that have gone to Fort McMurray “until the evacuation process is complete.”

Colinda Laviolette captured video of a Hercules aircraft bringing wildfire evacuees from Fort Smith to Fort McMurray.

She posted it online so people would be able to see their loved ones who made it aboard the aircraft safely.

She said she works for the territories’ government in Fort Smith. She has a home there but also spends a lot time in Edmonton to help children with special needs gain access to services not available in the Northwest Territories. When she spoke to Global News, she said she was about halfway between Fort Smith and Edmonton.

Laviolette told Global News her son was supposed to be on the plane but had to get on the one that departed later.

Story continues below advertisement

“I told my son and his father, if there’s a window of opportunity to leave, leave. Get out,” Laviolette said. “I care about my house but … things are replaceable… there’s insurance … Just get out.

“It’s so scary, especially when all of a sudden they’re just cut off from the world.”

–With files from Phil Heidenreich and Karen Bartko, Global News

Sponsored content