A glance up North, engulfed in flames

Huge swaths of the Northwest Territories are burning in what’s the worst season for wildfires in Canadian history. In our latest newsletter, we highlight some of the journalists keeping residents informed
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Heavy smoke from nearby wildfires fills the sky as sandhill cranes feed with houseboats in the distance in Yellowknife on Tuesday, August 15, 2023.
If this were any other week, I’d be thrilled to take you behind the scenes of the reporting we’ve done at The Narwhal over the past few days — a photo essay on threatened rockfish in the Pacific or an in-depth feature about the fight against a new mine in a historic, and hesitant, mining town. But it’s not just any other week.

Massive swaths of the Northwest Territories, where vast forest expanses store more carbon than the region itself emits, are engulfed in more than 230 wildfires.

On Wednesday evening — days after wildfire smoke shrouded the capital city Yellowknife — its 20,000 residents, as well as the neighbouring Dene communities of Ndilǫ and Dettah, were ordered to evacuate.

On Wednesday afternoon I was set to interview Ollie Williams, editor of Cabin Radio, where a dedicated team has been triaging information to keep residents informed all in one place. But that day, as the blazes raced toward the city, Ollie responded to my email: “Karan. Relocating. More like 6MT. Sorry.”

That interview never happened. And understandably so.

Earlier in the week, communication lines went down and the Government of the Northwest Territories announced a spate of evacuation orders, affecting largely Indigenous communities. The town of Enterprise almost all went up in flames. In the South Slave region, Fort Smith was told to evacuate to Hay River. Soon, Hay River — where a different inferno triggered an evacuation as early as May this year — was no longer safe. Kátł’odeeche First Nation was also ordered to leave, as was the small Dehcho region community of Jean Marie River. Just today, the community of Kakisa has been told to evacuate immediately.
Burnt out cars and debris after a wildfire
A wildfire ripped through the town of Enterprise, with the impacts captured here by Zachary Pangborn.
I had also reached out to Morgan Tsetta, a B.C.-based photographer and filmmaker who was in her home community of Ndilǫ, updating audiences on TikTok and Instagram through videos about the wildfires. She shared before-and-after shots of the same places within the span of hours, showing the terrifying reality of being on the ground. A few hours after I was set to receive her photos on Wednesday afternoon, an update went up on her Instagram story: her bags were packed, her family was planning for the evacuation order that eventually materialized.

I couldn’t get her photos either. Again, understandably so.

The mass exodus from Yellowknife and smaller communities, as residents pile into cars and travel hundreds of kilometres on a single highway to find safety, is yet another reminder of the immediate impacts of a changing climate. 

Canada’s Arctic region is warming at a higher rate than the rest of the planet and here, in the subarctic, that rapid shift is also being felt as a hotter, drier landscape becomes a playground for wildfires. Across Canada, 13.4 million hectares of land have burned this year — the worst wildfire season on record. 

In B.C., where I’m writing this update, officials say the next 48 hours are set to be “the most challenging of the summer” as drought conditions and a forecast of strong winds pose a threat of potential new wildfires.

As Canada burns, oil executives are doubling down on the status quo and saying too much emphasis is being placed on the energy transition. And because of Meta’s response to Bill C-18, critical journalism about environmental emergencies is no longer available on Facebook, where many people get their news. Ads from oil giants? They’re still there.

Take care and go straight to the source,

Karan Saxena
Audience engagement editor
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Ontario Premier Doug Ford listens as Ontario’s minister of housing Steve Clark speaks during a press conference

Tracking the Greenbelt fallout

Since Ontario’s auditor general Bonnie Lysyk dropped her fiery report on the Doug Ford government’s Greenbelt changes, public backlash has been ramping up. People in Pickering and Barrie have rallied outside government offices, while farmers have called for swapped land to be returned to the protected Greenbelt. Reporter Emma McIntosh will be updating this running list of reactions to the audit. 

Meanwhile, reporter Fatima Syed and bureau chief Denise Balkissoon have gone on air to help break down the Greenbelt bombshell — and why Ontarians are mad about it.

Oh, and make sure to bring your questions to Emma and Fatima on Reddit, where they’ll host an Ask Me Anything this Monday from 1-2 p.m. ET.

This week in The Narwhal

A group of miners are pictured in an underground passage at a Rossland, B.C., mine in 1898
A community transformed from mining town to resort destination. It doesn’t want to go back
By Francesca Fionda
There’s a political push to dig up minerals deemed critical for a low-carbon economy. But residents in Rossland, B.C., are resisting a new mine.

An underwater shot of a tiger rockfish attached to a weight line being lowered back into the ocean afterit was caught
Bad catch: the fish that’s threatened even if you release it
By Ainslie Cruickshank
Houses are pictured by a field in southern Ontario.
Doug Ford says building on the Greenbelt will help immigrants achieve the ‘Ontario dream’. Here’s why he’s (still) wrong
By Fatima Syed


What we’re reading

In the Honolulu Civil Beat, Naka Nathaniel addresses the deeper truths about the Maui fires, “a human-made disaster generations in the making.”

In Maclean’s, Anne Shibata Casselman explores what Canada might look like in 2060 — fires, floods and all — and how we can get through it.

In The Atlantic, Leah C. Stokes writes about how she turned her house into a zero-carbon utopia.
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