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Former Northland family loses home to wildfire in Canada’s Northwest Territories

A forest fire in Canada’s Northwest Territories has claimed the home of former Northland residents Dave and Kristen Olesen. The Olesens’ remote three-story home at the northeastern tip of Great Slave Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories was lost in a wildfire on July 4. A guest home and all of the family’s winter firewood were lost in the fire as well.

Dave Olesen is a bush pilot and dog musher who lived in Ely for several years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, after graduating from Northland College in Ashland. Only Kristen Olesen was home at the time of the fire. She managed to free all of the family’s sled dogs, and she escaped the fire by taking a boat out onto the lake. Dave Olesen was away at the time, flying one of his bush planes on a charter contract. The couple’s two teenage daughters were away on a canoe trip.

Forest fires continue to burn

across the Northwest Territories in one of the worst summers for fires in many years. According to the Toronto Sun, as of Wednesday 173 fires had  started across the Northwest Territories, and just 30 had been extinguished. Most of the fires have been caused by lightning strikes. Fires have burned more than 2 million acres.

The Olesens’ homestead near the mouth of the Hoarfrost River is extremely isolated. Their nearest neighbors are about 20 miles away at Reliance, and the Chipewyan village of Lutsel K’e is about 60 miles away. The Olesens are about 150 miles by air east of Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories. Dave Olesen bought the property 27 years ago, and Kristen Olesen joined him there soon after.

The Olesens remain at their homestead. They’re living in a workshop and office building, but much of it is not insulated, according to family members. They plan to rebuild on the site, Kristen Olesen told the Northern Journal, a newspaper based in Fort Smith, NWT.

A fund has been established at Avery, Cooper and Co., an accounting firm in Yellowknife, NWT, to accept donations for the Olesen family. Donations can be made by check and sent to the firm or by Visa, Mastercard or American Express over the phone. The firm can be reached at (867) 873-3441. The address is 4918 50th St., P.O. Box 1620, Yellowknife, NWT, X1A 2P2. For more information, email

In addition, people who wish to donate material goods, labor or other services to the Olesen family may email with those offers, said family friend Jennifer Stranart of Yellowknife.

The Olesen family agreed to the establishment of the benefit fund on the condition that if they received more than they need, they will pay it forward to others, according to news reports and a family member.

“I still hold to the notion, as does Kristen and as do our girls, that ‘Some people in this world have real problems.  This, lest we lose perspective, is not a real problem,’ ” Dave Olesen wrote in an email about a week after the fire.

Dave Olesen is the author of three books and has another coming out this fall. He has completed the Iditarod Sled Dog Race eight times.