Firefighters stand on a Kamloops Fire Rescue truck at a wildfire near Fort St. John, British Columbia, May 14, 2023. OSV News photo/Kamloops Fire Rescue handout via Reuters

Bishop evacuated, asks for prayers as NWT wildfires grow

  • August 18, 2023

Catholic churches have thus far been spared from the more than 200 wildfires sweeping through the Northwest Territories, according to Bishop Jon Hansen of the Mackenzie-Fort Smith diocese.

Hansen, the leader of the bishopric since 2018, provided The Catholic Register with an email update he sent to parishioners the day after he completed a 12-hour evacuation drive from Yellowknife to Grande Prairie, Alta., to shelter with family. He described the devastation of motoring through Enterprise, a hamlet described as “90-per-cent gone” following the fiery destruction.

“I drove through there yesterday and it was the closest image to an apocalyptic wasteland that I have ever seen,” wrote Hansen.

Over 30,000 of the approximately 45,000 people living in the Northwest Territories has been mandated to vacate their homes, including more than 20,000 who reside in the capital city of Yellowknife. Fort Smith, Hay River and the K’atl’odeeche First Nation are other communities under an evacuation order.

While Hansen witnessed the despair of wreckage along his journey on the road, he also witnessed “the best of humanity” as he saw many farmyards in northern Alberta that “were freshly mowed and had big, hand-painted signs, offering free camping to all those equipped with tents and RVs.” Others in Alberta and B.C. have mobilized to operate emergency shelters. 

The next few days are now just a matter of waiting to see what will happen next,” wrote Hansen. 

“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.”

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