Yukon First Nations Wildfire closes a record-breaking fire season

A collaboration between 13 indigenous governments and the Yukon government officially closed another fire season on Friday, which was one for Canada’s record books.

Canada saw more than double the carbon emissions from wildfires between January 1 and July 31 than the previous record year, according to the European Union’s Earth Observation Programme. The emissions represented 25 percent of the global total for 2023 to date.

Animation of GFASv1.2 active fire locations and fire radiative power over Canada from 1 May to 31 July 2023, showing how the locations of wildfires has moved during the 2023 season. Credit: CAMS/ECMWF.
Click to view animation of GFASv1.2 active fire locations and fire radiative power over Canada from 1 May to 31 July 2023, showing how the locations of wildfires moved during the 2023 season. Credit: CAMS/ECMWF.

The Yukon First Nations Wildfire partnership helped fight 218 of the fires that started in the territory and burned more than 223,942 hectares. The partnership is made up of 13 First Nations and nine stakeholders that incorporate traditional knowledge in both its IA and SA programs. The collaboration officially closed its IA crew’s season on September 15.

“Today is the final day of our Initial Attack crew’s season! Congratulations on a summer full of hard work and dedication,” the partnership posted on its Facebook page. “It’s been a record-breaking year for wildfires across the country, and your impact has been felt from coast to coast.”

Yukon First Nations Wildfire was founded by wildland firefighters and Indigenous business leaders in 2018 after Da Daghay Development Corporation, a First Nations development corporation, started talks for unified wildland firefighting from among all of the territory’s First Nations in 2015. The partnership has since trained 250 firefighters and deployed nine IA teams in First Nation communities.

Yellowknife firefighters

The 2023 season was the first in a recently renewed three-year agreement for managing wildfire in the territory between the First Nations and Yukon’s government, one that outlines hiring procedures for IA firefighters across the territory.

“Several models for wildfire response are in place across the Yukon depending on the preference of First Nations governments for direct hiring of wildland firefighters or delegating administration to others,” according to a June news release from Yukon’s government. “While some First Nations hire crew members directly through development corporations, others delegate contracts to Yukon First Nations Wildfire. These contracted employees are trained and integrated on a yearly basis into the territorial Wildland Fire Management organization.”

The Yukon First Nations Wildfire partnership specifically includes the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, the White River First Nation, the Ta’an Kwach’an Council, the Liard First Nation, the Kluane First Nation, the Champagne Aishihik First Nation, the Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation, and the Ross River Dena Council. Four others — the Selkirk First Nation, the Vuntut First Nation, the Teslin Tlingit First Nation and the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, are administered by Development Corporation or First Nations directly.


Canada’s NWT capital evacuated

Hundreds of wildfires burning in Canada’s Northwest Territories have resulted in emergency declarations and the evacuation of the capital city of Yellowknife — by road and by air. About 20,000 residents of Yellowknife have been ordered to leave, as more than 230 fires burn across the territory and smoke drifts south into the United States. CNN reported that Yellowknife accounts for about half of the total population of the remote territory, located north of Alberta and east of Yukon.

The BBC reported that thousands of people on the outskirts of Yellowknife, one of the largest cities in Canada’s north, have crowded into the local airport and choked the road out of town. Hundreds have lined up for emergency military evacuation flights, and officials have given Yellowknife residents a deadline of noon Friday to leave.

NASA image of NWT smoke August 16, 2023
NASA image of NWT smoke August 16, 2023

“We’re all tired of the word unprecedented,” said Premier Caroline Cochrane.

This afternoon the fire had burned to within 16km (10 miles) of the city. “Very tough days ahead,” said the territorial fire service, predicting more high winds. The closest evacuation shelter is 1,100km south of Yellowknife.

Military evacuation flights were scheduled today, with five flights to Calgary in the neighboring province of Alberta. The federal transport minister said Air Canada is capping the cost of flights out of Yellowknife and has added two extra flights out of the city.

One of the fires west of Yellowknife is at 165,000 hectares — over 407,000 acres. “We’re all tired of the word unprecedented,” said Premier Caroline Cochrane. “Yet there is no other way to describe this situation in the Northwest Territories.”