Evacuees from wildfires near the Kátł’odeeche First Nation and Hay River start their fifth day in Yellowknife’s multiplex with no sign of returning home soon.
In a press conference on Thursday, a territorial government spokesperson said any thought of heading back would be “premature” given the current state of the fire.
A year ago, when residents escaped a flood in the same area, they were cleared to return just two days later.
This time, the evacuation and its duration are proving especially difficult for residents with pets – and the situation in and around Hay River seems to be worsening rather than getting better.
Yellowknife’s multiplex is the only free accommodation available to evacuees, who are forbidden from keeping pets on its premises, the territorial Department of Municipal and Community Affairs said.
“I’m at the Explorer hotel and paying $217 a night,” said an evacuee who preferred to remain anonymous to protect their privacy.
“I’m a pet owner, so that’s a big reason why I chose the hotel option.
“Let’s say Hay River is evacuated for 10 more days. That’s putting average working-class people in the hole.”
But Maca says evacuees should have thought about this ahead of time.
“We spend a lot of time asking people to be prepared for emergencies,” said Maca spokesperson Jay Boast. “We even have a brochure for people about pets during emergencies, to provide that information.”
That brochure’s first alternative is staying in a hotel, but some evacuees could find that prohibitively expensive.
Why can’t pets stay?
Maca says resources at the centre are too limited to allow pets.
“If you think about the number of evacuees and you think about capacity, we have to be considering the basic needs of evacuees,” said Boast. Evacuees are given cots on an arena floor with limited privacy and only a modicum of access to everyday amenities.
“Just being practical, if every evacuee brought a pet with them, that would have an impact on our ability to provide for basic needs at the evacuation centre,” Boast added.
Maca says about 100 evacuees are staying at the multiplex. The department says the facility’s maximum capacity as an evacuation shelter is 334.
While the department suggested the NWT SPCA could help people with pets, the SPCA said it had already been at capacity for months. The SPCA did, however, say it had jury-rigged accommodation for seven cats from Hay River’s shelter and one family’s cat. The SPCA said it is not able to take any more animals.
The SPCA said it had not been in contact with Maca but had heard from Caitlin Cleveland, the Kam Lake MLA. Cleveland’s full rundown of the pet boarding situation has been posted to Facebook.
Qimmiq Kennels, a Yellowknife dog boarding and daycare service, separately said it was overwhelmed with boarding requests due to the wildfires. Borealis Kennels said it is at capacity for cats but has a few spots remaining for dogs.
Best help is in YK, GNWT says
On Thursday, the GNWT encouraged any evacuees who need territorial assistance and have not yet come to Yellowknife to do so.
“We are hearing that there is some hesitation on some people’s parts to go to Yellowknife, and we would encourage you to proceed to the evacuation centre, because that’s where we can provide the best service for you,” said Boast.
“If they are looking for GNWT assistance, the place for them to be is at the multiplex in Yellowknife.”
Beyond the multiplex, the accommodation situation in Yellowknife is strained.
The Kátł’odeeche First Nation reported that hotels in Yellowknife are full and the First Nation is looking into accommodation for members in Fort Providence and Enterprise. All Yellowknife hotels Cabin Radio was able to reach on Thursday were either at or very near their capacity.
Reached by phone, Mayor of Enterprise Michael St Amour said the community has no more room for evacuees, but had coordinated with KFN Chief April Martel to reserve a limited number of beds for Kátł’odeeche Elders unable to find accommodation in Yellowknife.