Hay River, KFN residents take shelter in Yellowknife as fire rages on

The blaze had claimed 15 buildings in KFN as of Monday morning

Michelle Lafferty and her one-month-old son, Ryder Norn, outside Yellowknife's Multiplex on Monday, May 15. (Mariah Caruso/CKLB)

Anne Kasper remembers pitch-black smoke consuming the sky and an “unbearable” smell in the air like burning moss.

“We don’t know what happened,” said Kasper, a 54-year-old resident of the K’atl’odeeche First Nation (KFN). “It was a tiny little fire, and then it just got crazy out of control.”

Kasper and two of her grandchildren grabbed what they could and fled to Yellowknife. Speaking outside of the Multiplex arena on Monday morning, she said the support from the Yellowknife community has been excellent. “They are taking care of us like you wouldn’t believe,” she said.

Anne Kasper says the response from the Yellowknife community has been excellent. (Mariah Caruso/CKLB)

Residents flee as fire rages on

As fire continues to burn in and around Hay River, residents of the community and of the neighbouring KFN are fleeing to safety.

The fire started east of Vale Island. It was first confirmed around 9:45 a.m. on Mother’s Day Sunday. It has since entered the KFN and jumped the channel to Hay River: As of 10:30 this morning, the fire had claimed about 15 buildings in KFN, according to Fire NWT Spokesperson Mike Westwick. No structural damage has yet been reported in Hay River.

As of Sunday evening, the fire was 65 hectares in size. Although an assessment of the size hasn’t been possible since then, Westwick confirmed the blaze has grown “significantly” since then.

Westwick said the danger has not subsided despite showers forecasted throughout the day, although winds are forecasted to change direction away from the communities this evening.

“We acknowledge that this is an extremely, extremely difficult time for the folks in K’atl’odeeche First Nation,” said Westwick. “And what I would say is just that our teams are working extremely hard to battle the blazes.”

The fire is suspected to be human-caused.

An evacuation order was issued for the KFN shortly after 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, and for Hay River at 11:00 p.m. that evening.

As of 10:30 this morning, six fire crews had been assigned to the fire, with six more on the way, according to ECC spokesperson Mike Westwick.

The response also includes helicopters, air tankers, and other equipment.

Nezha Soumer fled Hay River with her husband and four children around midnight on Sunday. (Mariah Caruso/CKLB)

Residents take shelter in Yellowknife

Nezha Soumer fled Hay River with her husband and four children around midnight on Sunday.

“We’re all tired; We didn’t sleep all night, and we can’t sleep now,” she said.

Because her family eats halal, Soumer says they have struggled to find food at the Multiplex they can eat. Despite this, she says it’s good for her children to experience the realities of life in the North.

This story will continue to be updated as more details become available.

With files from Mariah Caruso.

About the Author

Ian Down
Ian Down is a general news reporter from the West Island of Montreal. After studying journalism and computer science at Concordia University, he came to Yellowknife in 2021, joining the CKLB team in September 2022. When not behind his desk, you can find him at a local Yellowknife poetry reading, or annoying his roommates by playing his clarinet at odd hours. Feel free to reach out with any tips or story ideas at ian.down@cklb.com, or follow him on Twitter at @IanDown1996.