Status update on the recent wildfires in the Northwest Territories (NWT) by Bishop Jon Hansen

Monday, August 21, 2023

First of all, thank you for all the wonderful thoughts and prayers that have filled my text and email apps. Yesterday I had a 12-hour drive from Yellowknife to Grande Prairie, where I am “sheltering”. I am one of the lucky evacuees who have family in Alberta so I am very comfortable staying in the home of my niece and her husband.

That’s not the case for all who were forced to leave. As I drove, I saw many tents and campers for the entire length of my journey. There will also be many families in hotels and evacuation centres across Alberta and British Columbia. I gathered the quote below from one of our information sources,

Approximately 63 percent of the NWT population is currently under evacuation order, if we use the most recent community population numbers provided by the NWT Bureau of Statistics. That’s about 28,904 residents, though this number doesn’t account for non-residents such as tourists or people here on short work contracts whose home province is elsewhere and would also be evacuating the NWT right now.

Presently there are various levels of crisis in the NWT. A number of communities including Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith and Inuvik have fire at their doorsteps and we are just waiting to see what the weather will do to move the fires forward or to aid the firefighters and help hold the fires back. Other communities have already been breached including Behchoko (three homes lost) and Enterprise which was, according to reports, about 90% wiped out. I drove through there yesterday and it was the closest image to an apocalyptic wasteland that I have ever seen. For some communities such as Hay River and Katlodeeche, this is the second time they have been evacuated this summer, this after having to do the same a year ago due to floods.

On a brighter note, there is nothing like a crisis to bring out the best in humanity. There was a traffic stop at Big River (outside of Fort Providence), this is the only place on the 700km stretch between Yellowknife and High Level where you can stop for gas. With more than five thousand vehicles passing through a gas station with four pumps you can imagine that it could have been a place of chaos, and there was some of that. However, the prevalent mood was very neighbourly. People got out of their cars to stretch their legs and walk their dogs and spent time talking and laughing with one another. I was also surprised to see the many farm yards in northern Alberta that were freshly mowed and had big, hand-painted signs, offering free camping to all those equipped with tents and RVs.

The next few days are now just a matter of waiting to see what will happen next. All our staff and clergy are safe and accounted for, although they have been scattered to the wind by plane and by road. Keep the prayers coming as we ask for the miracle of rainfall in abundance for our parched land.


The Most Rev. Jon Hansen, C.Ss.R, Bishop of Mackenzie-Fort Smith