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N.W.T. officials prepare to welcome back residents of Yellowknife and other communities

The Northwest Territories is preparing to welcome back residents to Yellowknife, Dene First Nation and to the communities of Ndilǫ and Délı̨nę as early as Sept. 6., officials said at a press conference on Saturday.

The territorial government also intends to change the status for Ingraham Trail from evacuation order to an alert for the same timeframe.

The announcement comes as two major wildfires in the vicinity of Yellowknife have been downgraded from “out of control” to “being held.”

“This is excellent news,” said Shane Thompson, the territory’s minister of municipal and community affairs.

“There is a lot of work that must be done to ensure that a basic level of service and support is available for you when you get home,” he added, encouraging residents of the four communities to stay put until Wednesday at noon.


Julie Green, the territory’s minister of health and social services said there will be no resources available for residents until Wednesday – and after that, she is estimating it will take about a month for health services to reach “full capacity.”

For now, there will be basic-life sustaining services, including emergency care, some surgical capacity, inpatient beds and primary care, she said.

Home care and day sheltering will be available with limited capacity.

“Our services depend on people to operate them and these dedicated individuals will be returning at different times and with varying levels of readiness due to their own experience as evacuees,” she said.

Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty said residents should be coming back in reverse order of evacuation, meaning those who need less services should come back first.

For those driving back to their homes, Alty said they should prepare for long lines and bring enough water and food, as well as watch out for bison on the road and understand there’s limited hotel capacity between Edmonton and Yellowknife.

“Try to be as resilient as you can for the first 72 hours,” she said. “Whether you’re flying or driving, remember that you’re leaving communities that are fully operational and functional; and you’ll be coming back to basic, basic services.”

Alty recommended people pack enough items to last 72 hours to reduce burden on services, such as non-perishable food items, medicines, and cash.

Overnight shelters will be available for people who need it in Yellowknife upon arrival and there will be a free dinner on Sep. 6 said Kimberly Riles, CEO of the territory’s health and social services authority.


The territory is also offering a $750 support payment for those who have evacuated outside of N.W.T.

William MacKay, the territory’s finance minister, says N.W.T. has received over 5,000 applications from people looking for financial reimbursement. The $750 travel support will be reimbursed on a first-comes-first-serve basis.

A fuel tanker truck sits at a Petro Canada as evacuees from Yellowknife, territorial capital of the Northwest Territories, queue up to get gas at Big River Service in Ft. Providence, N.W.T., Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill BradenThe financial assistance is meant to offset some of the cost for driving or flying back to the territory, although MacKay said he understands it “doesn’t cover all the expenses,” of relocation.

Residents looking to return to the territory by air can now pre-register for flights leaving from Whitehorse, Winnipeg and Alberta.

“Flights will depart as early as Wednesday, Sep. 6 and continue for an estimated five days,” said Jay Boast, information officer from the Emergency Management Organization.


As of Saturday afternoon, officials classified the Behchoko/Yellowknife fire, also called ZF015, and the Ingraham Trail Fire, also known as ZF011, as being held. The fires are 1,670 and 501 square kilometres in size respectively.

A fire is classified as being held when resources and sufficient suppression action have been taken that make a wildfire unlikely to spread beyond existent or pre-determined boundaries under prevailing and forecasting conditions, officials said in an online update.

The change of status of these fires does not mean it is safe to return yet, the update warns.

While the return date is tentatively set for Wednesday, residents were also advised of possible changes based on wildfires, hence residents are encouraged to keep looking at the territory’s website for updates.

“With mother nature you never know,” said Thompson.

Meanwhile, two other fires in the North Slave region remain “out of control.” These are referred to as the ZF012 and ZF085 fires.

A wildfire is classified as out of control when its perimeter has not yet been established and perimeter spread is not being contained.

The ZF012 fire is approximately 17,316 hectares in size and roughly 43 kilometres away from Yellowknife, and 13 kilometres from Fishback Lake.

The ZF085 fire is 49,460 hectares in size and roughly 7 kilometres away from Jennejohn Lake.

For these fires, there are 325 personnel, including from the Canadian Armed Forces, 14 helicopters, four air tanker groups and four pieces of heavy equipment.


On Saturday afternoon, N.W.T. fire posted on Facebook there were 416 personnel, including 71 pieces of heavy equipment, 21 helicopters and 205 firefighters and structure protection personnel responding to the Wood Buffalo Complex.

The fire, which is 3.4 kilometres away from the community of Fort Smith, is expanding across 4,722 square kilometres.

A second big fire is approximately one kilometre west from the Hay River’s airport, and seven kilometres south of K’átł’odeeche First Nation Reserve’s residences.

There are currently more than 220 personnel, 12 helicopters and 23 pieces of heavy equipment and air tankers tackling the fire, which expands 4,173 square kilometres.

Residents who have been displaced from these communities, including Kakisa and Enterprise, are discouraged from travelling to Yellowknife as services will be limited.

“Our teams are still working very hard to fight the fire outside your communities and our priority is to get you home as soon as it’s safe,” said Thompson.

He added there will not be any support or services available in Yellowknife for residents from other communities for the time being.

It is still too early to tell when other communities might be able to return home, officials said.

Another press conference is scheduled for Monday at 4 p.m. MDT.

With files from The Canadian Press. 

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