Wildfire update, August 15 5:30 p.m.: GNWT declares state of emergency as fire ravages South Slave

The minister responsible for ECC previously told reporters the territory had all the resources it needed without declaring a state of emergency

The sky above Fort Smith on the evening of Aug. 13. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

The NWT’s Minister Responsible for Environment and Climate Change has declared a territory-wide state of emergency.

A notice of the declaration was sent out shortly after 5:30 on Tuesday, Aug. 15.

The purpose of the declaration, according to a press release, is “to allow the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) to acquire and deploy the necessary resources to support the management of this unprecedented wildfire season, and protect the health and safety of Northwest Territories residents. ”

In a press conference on Monday afternoon, Thompson told media the territory did not need to declare a state of emergency as it had all the resources it needed to fight the active wildfires.

At last estimate, the fire threatening Hay River was about 14 kilometres south of that community. And the fires along the Alberta border that forced an evacuation of Fort Smith were last estimated at about 10 kilometres southwest of Salt River First Nation.

Five communities are subject to evacuation orders: Fort Smith, Hay River, KFN, Enterprise, and Jean Marie River. Residents subject to evacuation orders are strongly discouraged from staying behind, as this requires first responders to divert resources. Kakisa remains under evacuation alert, meaning residents should be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

A spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Climate Change estimated about 15 per cent of the territory’s population is subject to an evacuation alert.

In Alberta, the designated evacuation centre has been moved from Grande Prairie to St. Albert. But residents who have taken refuge in Fort McMurray can stay there. More than 260 evacuees have arrived in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo since Monday.

Although telecommunications services were restored to Fort Providence, the communities of Hay River, Fort Smith, Enterprise, and Jean-Marie River are entirely without phone or internet services.

Highways 2 and 5, and the Jean Marie River access are all closed.

Finally, Hay River residents who evacuated to Yellowknife should get in touch about a flight to the Alberta evacuation centre. Those residents should call 1-867-444-0618.

Yellowknife declares local state of emergency

Meanwhile, Yellowknife has declared a local state of emergency due to a nearby wildfire.

The state of emergency was voted into effect by the mayor and council on Monday evening.

The purpose of the declaration, according to City Manager Sheila Bassi Kellett, is to allow the City to call upon resources it may not have otherwise had access to. This includes mobilizing construction services to help build and strengthen fire breaks around the city.

“At this point in time, we are looking to mobilize every bit of heavy equipment that we can to be able to construct the fire breaks that are underway at this point,” said Bassi Kellett. “We know that there’s a very important fire break at the sand pits. We know that our friends at Environment and Climate Change see that as being a very important line of defence [and] that they’ve got some plans that they want to work back from to be able to ensure that the city is fully protected.”

According to the most recent update from NWT Fire, posted this morning at 11:00 a.m., the fire had reached Boundary Creek, and was 20 kilometres from the City at its closest point.

Mayor Rebecca Alty urged residents to stay calm despite the circumstances. “The declaration of a state of local emergency is not an evacuation alert, it is not an evacuation order. What it is, it’s about mobilizing resources to reduce the risk of forest fires.”

The agreement expires in one week unless canceled or renewed by council.

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.