Bob Mercredi was one of the last people to drive into Yellowknife before a 24-hour road closure blocked Highway 3 — the main route in and out of the capital.
He left Edmonton around 6 a.m. Tuesday and started his drive in clear skies.
"And then from the junction going into Fort Providence, it was just haze. It was just smoke and haze."
Transportation officials will decide whether to reopen Highway 3 this morning following a 24-hour closure of the section between Fort Providence and Behchoko. The closure was announced at about 10:30 yesterday morning after high winds pushed a large fire toward the road.
Fire crews have now flown in from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to help fight the fires that have scorched one million hectares of forest across the territory.
A road closure on Tuesday evening forced Mercredi to spend the night in his car outside Fort Providence, along with nearly 40 semis, cars and trucks all hoping to get through.
When the road opened briefly Wednesday morning, the former firefighter spent about 20 minutes driving past 40 kilometres of smouldering forest — a surreal experience.
"There would be mostly burn, then a little green. And then some more burn. It was unreal. It was unreal. I haven't seen anything like that," he says. "The smoke was kind of drifting across the road in some areas."
Highway crews are now manning barricades around the clock to ensure no one drives into a dangerous area.
Unplanned extended stay in Yellowknife
The road closures are affecting summer travel plans for many northerners.
Ellen Tang drove from Toronto to Yellowknife with a friend "just to check it out."
She was hoping to drive to Wood Buffalo Park, and on to the Rockies, on Monday.
"Everyday we've been driving out to the sign by the airport to see what the conditions are like," she says.
Now she's planning to stick around for the annual music festival, Folk on the Rocks, trying to make the best of an extended stay.
"The thought did occur to me that I may have to stay here for an extended amount of time, but there's always the air link. Worst comes to worst, I'll just buy a plane ticket and fly home."
Tang says she's lucky. She drove in with a friend and didn't drive a car she would need to take home.