From across the Hay River, April Glaicar watched as smoke and flames engulfed trees and a wildfire rapidly approached Kátł’odeeche First Nation in the Northwest Territories. On May 14, a wildfire that started east of the First Nation spread west, forcing its residents to evacuate.

Glaicar, a lifelong resident of neighbouring Hay River and an artisan jeweller and photographer, grabbed her camera to document the fire as it drew closer. What she witnessed was “alarming.”

“You could see these huge plumes of smoke, but I didn’t really have a sense of proximity because it was in the distance,” said Glaicar. “As it progressed, the smoke colours changed, and sometimes there was a glow of fire behind the smoke.”

While she was watching the smoke turn from gray to black, she was joined by residents of Kátł’odeeche First Nation who had just been evacuated. They sobbed and gasped, she said, as they watched the flames close in on their homes, recognizing the places that were being enveloped by the fire. Some prayed out loud for their homes to be spared.

“I’ll never forget that low, sad feeling,” recalls Glaicar. “It’s hard to see people overcome with emotion and to feel helpless that there’s nothing you can do to make it better.”

Residents of Hay River watching the wildfire in Kátł’odeeche First Nation at 10:47 p.m. on May 14. Photo by April Glaicar

As Glaicar stood there watching the fire, she called her 80-year-old mother and told her to pack a bag in case they needed to leave on short notice. Soon after, at 11 p.m., the community of Hay River was ordered to evacuate. Glaicar rushed back to her home, running through a checklist in her head of what she needed to bring: “water bottles, dog food, pillows, sleeping bags and medicine,” she thought. Thankfully, she had a bag of essentials packed by the door — this wasn’t the first time she’d been forced to evacuate.

The communities of Hay River and Kátł’odeeche First Nation are separated by the Hay River, which runs into Great Slave Lake. Last spring, the Hay River breached its banks, flooding communities and forcing residents to evacuate. Now, a year later, Hay River and Kátł’odeeche First Nation are faced with repercussions of yet another extreme weather event, even as some continue to recover from last year’s damage.

“I never thought in my life that I would see an evacuation, let alone twice for two different natural disasters,” said Glaicar. “It’s a reminder that we don’t call the shots. Mother Nature is greater than us.”

As the flames approached a neighbouring community, April Glaicar grabbed her camera. What she witnessed was “alarming.” #Wildfires

Canada faces an unprecedented wildfire season this year, as climate change, largely driven by human burning of fossil fuels, creates more days with hot, dry conditions. As of Thursday, the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System reports there are 441 active fires burning across Canada, 236 which are out of control.

At 1:30 a.m. on May 15, Glaicar took one last photo of the fire then drove towards safety with her mother and two dogs. They stopped when they reached a gravel pit on the outside of Enterprise, a settlement 40 kilometres south of Hay River. They stayed there for five nights with friends who had an RV. Glaicar’s mother slept in the RV, while Glaicar slept in her truck with her two dogs. On the fifth day, they learned they might be away from their home for another week, so Glaicar found a hotel in the nearby Dene community of Fort Providence on the Mackenzie River.

April Glaicar and her dog sleeping in her truck near Enterprise, N.W.T., on May 15 after evacuating Hay River. Photo by April Glaicar

Glaicar is grateful for all the communities that came together to support the evacuees. Residents of Fort Providence put together meals for the evacuees, and those in Yellowknife offered to take in evacuees' pets while they stayed in community centres there.

“The North is a vast land mass, but it’s a small population and communities are close to each other,” said Glaicar. “There has been an outpouring of support since the night we were evacuated.”

On May 25, after 10 days of being displaced, Glaicar was finally able to return home. As she arrived, she could see ash on the ground but felt a sense of relief when she realized that everything in her home was exactly how she left it.

“It was a huge relief,” said Glaicar. “It fills [me] with gratitude that the fire did not spread because of how tirelessly the wildfire fighters worked to suppress the fire and minimize any further damage to the community.”

Unfortunately, across the river, residents of Kátł’odeeche First Nation were not so lucky. Many lost their homes, and the Kátł’odeeche First Nation band office burned down. Residents began returning to the community on Jun. 6, but the road remains closed to non-residents.

Now, Hay River residents are coming together to support Kátł'odeeche First Nation. The animal shelter is taking in lost and displaced pets, and the local friendship centre is putting together household items, clothing and food for collection.

“We are Kátł’odeeche, Hay River strong,” said Glaicar.