Posted on July 10, 2014 by Tia Lalani

On July 4, Augustana dogsledding expedition hosts Dave and Kristen Olesen lost their home.

Details from story at


Dave Olesen, 56, in front of his float plane on a Yellowknife dock. On July 4, a wildfire destroyed the home he and his wife had built by hand on a remote part of Great Slave Lake. “It wasn’t a perfect house but I loved it.” (CBC)

On Friday, July 4, Dave and Kristen Olesen lost their homestead in the worst forest fire season the Northwest Territories has seen in two decades. They have lived on the shore of Great Slave Lake’s McLeod Bay near the Hoarfrost River for 27 years: they built the home themselves and raised their two daughters in it.

Dave was away flying his charter plane the day the wind swept the fire – which had been burning for weeks – towards his home.

“I taxied in through the smoke, not knowing what I would find,” he says. “I got to the shore and Kristen came out. As I tied the plane up, I asked her, ‘Do we have a house?’ and she said, ‘No we don’t have a house.’”

Augustana has had a long relationship with the Olesen family, through Outdoor Education instructor Morten Asfeldt. “We have had a total of 54 students up there on the dogsled course beginning in 2005,” he says. “And some students have stopped there on Arctic course canoe trips.” The Olesens have hosted Augustana Deans Roger Epp and Allen Berger for dogsledding expeditions as well.

When the fire struck, daughters Liv and Annika (who will be attending Augustana in September) were escorting six of our students on a paddling trip. Two current students – Laura Dokter and Ryan Lindsay – stayed behind after the trip to help the family where they could.

“Of the many benefits of spending time at the Hoarfrost,” Morten continued, “I think students learn the possibility of choosing a different and more courageous life than the societal norm. The Olesens are exemplary models of this.”

The three-storey house was 6 metres by 6 metres, built by logs Kristen and Dave Olesen cut and peeled themselves. (CBC)

The three-storey house was 6 metres by 6 metres, built by logs Kristen and Dave Olesen cut and peeled themselves. (CBC)

Dave, Kristen, Annika and Liv will rely on that courage in the months to come. They lost their main house and their guest house. The workshop and writer’s cabin remain, as does the dog yard. In the face of the fire sweeping towards her, Kristen had released their 45 sled dogs… the family was delighted to see 43 of them return.

At least 130 fires are burning across the Northwest Territories right now, with more than half of them in the regions north and south of Great Slave Lake. The fires have closed highways and two territorial parks, prompted fire bans, and forced one community — Kakisa, pop. 50 — to be evacuated for a week.

“The lesson we’re taking from this is when it’s a fire season like this and everything in the whole country is about to ignite, you’re on your own,” Dave says. “You can’t wait for the cavalry to come in.”

Olesen says he and his wife are already talking about rebuilding, but at 56, he’s not sure what they’ll do. He says the scar from the fire on the landscape is something that won’t heal in his lifetime.

A community comes together

Augustana dogsledding expedition to the Olesen home in 2008.

Augustana dogsledding expedition to the Olesen home in 2008.

Friends and family from as far away as Yellowknife have mobilized to help the Olesens. Within days, they were flooded with offers of help and supplies to help them rebuild. Nearby friends are building a list of people willing to offer their time and expertise, and a Yellowknife accounting firm has set up a trust fund to accept donations for the family.

“I have spoken to Kristen and they are ok with a fund being set up on their behalf,” says friend Jennifer Stranart. “However, they are only ok with it with the understanding that if there ends up being more than they need, that they can ‘pay it forward’ to someone else in need.”

If you wish to help, please contact Lorri Kamitomo at Avery Cooper in Yellowknife.

All donations should reference Olesen. Avery Cooper can accept cash directly in the office, cheques delivered to the office or by mail, and Visa, MasterCard, American Express over the phone at (867) 873-3441, toll free at 1-800-661-0787, or in the office. Email transfers may be made to and direct deposit information is below. (People depositing directly to the trust account must email with the donation information.)

Royal Bank of Canada
1, 4920 –52nd street
Yellowknife, NT X1A 3T1

Bank: 003
Transit: 09879
Account: 100 094 2
Name on account: Avery Cooper & Co. (Trust Account)

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