Wildfire threat to Yellowknife deemed serious as parts of city on evacuation alert

Smoky weather that rolled into Yellowknife on Sunday had many residents filling vehicles with gas. The N.W.T. declared a territorial state of emergency on Tuesday, while the city of Yellowknife put several areas of the city on evacuation alert. (Luke Carroll/CBC)

By Luke CarrollLiny Lamberink · CBC News

Evacuation alert issued for Kam Lake, Grace Lake and the Engle Business District in Yellowknife

The wildfire threat to Yellowknife has become serious, the N.W.T.’s minister of municipal and community affairs, Shane Thompson, told a news conference Tuesday evening.

The news briefing came on the heels of Yellowknife declaring an evacuation alert for parts of the city’s west end and Thompson declaring a territorial state of emergency due to wildfires and evacuations in many parts of the territory.

The emergency declaration will allow the territory 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,” according to a news release on Tuesday afternoon.

“We find ourselves in a crisis situation and our government is using every tool available to assist,” Thompson said in a statement.

The declaration comes a day after Thompson said there was no need to declare a territorial state of emergency, because the government had the resources it needed to handle things and an emergency declaration would simply “cause more stress.”

Up until noon Tuesday, Thompson said the government had the resources to fight the fire. He wouldn’t specify what changed after that point in time. He said smoke is making it hard for aircraft to see what they’re fighting.

Heavy smoke from nearby wildfires fills the sky in Yellowknife. The N.W.T.’s minister of municipal and community affairs said Tuesday the wildfire threat to Yellowknife is serious. (Angela Gzowski/The Canadian Press)

Mike Westwick, a fire information officer for the N.W.T. government, said it’s been difficult to fly aircraft due to smoke from the fire between Yellowknife and Behchokǫ̀.

“We are out there every single day fighting the progress of this fire,” Westwick said.

The N.W.T. is currently dealing with hundreds of active fires across the territory. Five communities were under evacuation orders as of Tuesday evening, and other areas were under evacuation alerts.

Some communities have been ravaged by fire, telecommunications services are down in some areas, and the capital city was put under a local state of emergency on Monday as a large wildfire moved closer.

Thompson said the territory could be dealing with wildfires for weeks yet, possibly into September.

Evacuation alert issued for parts of Yellowknife

An evacuation alert was issued Tuesday evening for the Kam Lake business district, Grace Lake and the Engle industrial area in Yellowknife. Rebecca Alty, the city’s mayor, made the announcement during an interview with Meghan Roberts, host of CBC’s Northbeat.

Alty said the evacuation alert is precautionary and that residents in those areas should be prepared to leave on short notice. During Tuesday’s news conference, she said if the alert is upgraded to an evacuation order, Yellowknife’s multiplex and the adjacent field house will open for those needing a place to stay.

The multiplex, she said, is a non-flammable building that has little vegetation around it, and would be protected by sprinklers.

In a phone call after the press conference, Charlsey White, the city’s planning and development director, said the multiplex can accommodate 336 cots while the field house can accommodate 300. The Old Town parking lot would be made available for people who want to camp with their pets, White said. The parking lot can accommodate about 60 people if they park properly, he added.

“Should there be overflow required, that’s where Rotary Park would come in as well. And we do have other locations again, should we need more space. These are the primary areas we would — if there was an order — recommend people go with their friends, their four-legged friends.”

White said the city also has property next to the Bristol pit that White said could easily be made available, if needed.

A map showing the wildfires surrounding Yellowknife, Ndilǫ and Dettah on Tuesday. The territorial government declared a state of emergency on Tuesday as it grapples with an extraordinary wildfire season. (Submitted by the N.W.T. government)

White said there would be enough space in both city buildings to accommodate everyone in the area where an evacuation alert has been issued, should it be upgraded to an order. All three areas under the alert are on the western side of the city. Kam Lake is both a residential and industrial area, while Grace Lake is a newer residential area. Alty said the evacuation alert does not include Hall Crescent.

White said in Grace Lake, there are 64 lots and approximately 192 residents. Kam Lake has 200 lots and 200 people.

City officials later said emergency evacuation zones — which will indicate to people which zone they’re in — will be posted on the city’s website shortly. “That will create a little more clarity for the public, specifically identifying what lots are in Kam Lake, what lots are in Grace Lake,” White said.

During the press conference, Alty didn’t specify what a city-wide evacuation might look like. When asked, she said if the situation escalates the city — with a population of about 20,000 people — would work with the territorial and federal government.

Some Yellowknife residents have taken to social media to question the city’s decision not to publicize a city-wide evacuation plan.

“I feel like our evacuation plan should have been made available to the public weeks ago,” Alexis Goulding said in a message to CBC News.

At Tuesday evening’s news conference, Alty was asked about providing residents with a plan. She said any areas under an evacuation order would go to the multiplex and that next steps would be announced as they come.

N.W.T. is currently dealing with hundreds of active fires across the territory. Above, smoke from nearby wildfires fills the sky in Yellowknife on Tuesday. (Angela Gzowski/The Canadian Press)

The Engle Business District is an industrial area that includes the SPCA and a fuel tank farm. The city spent the past two days clear cutting trees around this area. Alty, who was born and raised in Yellowknife, said this is first evacuation alert for the city that she can remember.

Alty said that although the alert is just for three areas at this time, all residents should be prepared.Thompson said Tuesday evening the fire remains 20 kilometres from the nearest point of Yellowknife, but said it’s a rapid and evolving situation.

Services had also been reduced at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife as of Tuesday. The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is ramping down services, with some ICU patients moving to the ER, and others possibly being flown to Alberta. Some extended care unit residents may also be flown south. Operating room services are also being reduced to urgent and emergent cases only.

Julie Green, N.W.T. health minister, said elders from the long term care home in Fort Smith were originally moved to Hay River during its evacuation, then to Stanton Legacy in Yellowknife when Hay River was evacuated.

Now the residents are in the process of relocating to Edmonton, Calgary and Fort McMurray, Alta. Some will be moved to facilities in the N.W.T. when possible.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Enterprise, N.W.T., ’90 per cent gone’ after wildfire ravages community, CBC News

Norway: Smoke from Canadian wildfires forecast to reach Norway, The Associated Press

Russia: New NOAA report finds vast Siberian wildfires linked to Arctic warming, The Associated Press

United States: Wildfires in Anchorage? Climate change sparks disaster fears, The Associated Press

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One thought on “Wildfire threat to Yellowknife deemed serious as parts of city on evacuation alert

  • Wednesday, August 23, 2023 at 10:45

    This threat scared many people and was serious as well, thank you for this information. Was the evacuation plan successful?

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