Northwest Territory wildfire evacuees frustrated by lack of communication

Northern grocers concerned about food supply as Northwest Territory wildfire evacuations continue

Wildfires across the Northwest Territories this week have sparked a mass exodus from towns, cities and First Nation communities.

According to The Canadian Press, officials are doing “everything possible” to slow the growth of the fire.

Morgan Tsetta, a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, arrived in Edmonton after a 17-hour trek.

“I think that a lot of people who aren’t from the Northwest Territories or remote areas in the Northern provinces don’t understand how far it is between cities and how few accommodations there are,” Tsetta told APTN News.

Tsetta is staying with other evacuees in a house her mother owns in Edmonton.

“We were up early to make the push to go straight to Edmonton…my cousin is epileptic so he wouldn’t be able to camp and sleep in the car like a lot of Northerners are doing,” she said.

Northwest Territory wildfire evacuees frustrated by lack of communication
Morgan Tsetta, evacuated from Yellowknife to Edmonton. Photo: Danielle Paradis/APTN

Tsetta said she wished there was more communication from the city of Yellowknife and the territorial government.

She said she has been listening to the radio and trying to keep people informed through her X (formerly Twitter) feed.

“It is nice to see that the residents of Yellowknife were able to assess the risk and take safety in our own hands,” she said.

“It makes me proud to be from Yellowknife.”

Other NWT evacuees were arriving at the Edmonton expo centre on the city’s north side Friday. They were able to register and apply for resources.

“We were going to go to Leduc, but apparently they are at capacity, so we came here,” said Sousanah Chanthalangsy, who arrived from Yellowknife. “We are just going to see what is going to happen. “Hopefully, we can get some more answers and help.”

Beverly Pilgrim, another evacuee, said there has been a lot of help from Albertans along the way.

Northwest Territory wildfire evacuations
Northwest Territory wildfire evacuees Rob Carry and Beverly Pilgrim speak to APTN. Photo: Chris Stewart/APTN

“We are very thankful for everything that Alberta has been doing,” she said. “Coming down from High Level, they have been giving free gas, they have been giving free food. They have been giving free water. “People have been opening up their yards for camping. It’s just unbelievable what the residents of Alberta have been doing to help us.”

Northern grocery stores concerned about food supply 

Elsewhere in the territory, citizens of Lutsel K’e Dene Nation, 187 km east of Yellowknife, are struggling to find a way to evacuate and worried about the food supply.

Northwest Territory wildfire evacuees
Artic Coop in the community of Lutsel K’e. Photo: Joe Yatikowski/Supplied

Joe Yatkowski, general manager of the Arctic Coop store there, has been working to charter a plane to make sure there are groceries for approximately 340 people who live in the community.

“Right now, we are just in panic mode trying to get stuff in because we need food here,” Yatkowski told APTN News.

Yatkowski said he had to ask the community for money to help offset the cost of the charter flight.

The latest update he had would see a chartered flight this Sunday from Air Tindi, an airline based in Yellowknife.

“The government doesn’t seem to be doing anything yet,” he said.

Another complicating factor is that the community is limited in the kind of aircraft it can receive.

“We are limited to certain turboprops and if they’re coming from a large distance it needs to be worth it,” said Yatkowski.

He hopes that moving forward, the federal and territorial governments will adjust their emergency planning to include communication with grocery stores.

No evidence of looting in community 

Back in Yellowknife, RCMP said they were investigating three cases of arson unrelated to the wildfires surrounding the community.

Cpl. Matt Halstead told The Canadian Press the fire was set in a remote area on the city’s outskirts behind wildfire defences.

Officers were able to quickly extinguish the blaze with the help of the fire department, police said.

Residents of the capital were first told Wednesday they should evacuate due to an approaching wildfire.

Halstead says there is no evidence of looting, noting officers are on patrol to help deter any criminal activity.

As of Thursday, Indigenous Services Canada reported that members of K’atlodeeche First Nation and Salt River First Nation #195 were evacuated to Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie, where an evacuation centre was established.

The city of Calgary says it received 14 evacuee flights from Northwest Territories, with 1,269 passengers. The city said another 26 flights were expected Friday, with about 2,300 more people.

It noted that 495 hotel rooms were provided to evacuees so far, but the number is changing rapidly as more evacuees arrive.

APTN did reach out to the city of Yellowknife and the Northwest Territorial government for comment about concerns from the evacuees. The city of Yellowknife spokesperson said they were not able to answer questions about the evacuation and directed APTN to the NWT government. The NWT government did not respond.

Information for evacuees

Financial support may be available to evacuees through the Government of Northwest Territories’ Evacuee Income Disruption Support Program.

Northwest Territories residents who need to evacuate, or have already evacuated should register with the Government of Northwest Territories on their website.

Alberta Health Services has shared a list of health supports available for evacuees.

For those arriving in Edmonton

The Reception Centre is located at the Edmonton EXPO Centre at 7515 118 Avenue NW in Hall C.

For those arriving in Calgary

For those arriving by air, the reception centre is located at the Calgary International Airport

For those driving, the reception centre is located at the Calgary Westin  671 Aero Dr NE, Calgary, AB T2E 7Y5.

YMCA Calgary is offering free facility access to residents of the Northwest Territories who are fleeing wildfires.


With files from Chris Stewart and the Canadian Press


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