Hay River virtual public meeting defeated by technical problems

Participants in a virtual public meeting in Hay River on May 23, 2023
Participants in a virtual public meeting in Hay River on May 23, 2023.

A virtual public meeting designed to inform Hay River evacuees about a wildfire threatening their community was terminated after technical difficulties rendered it unwatchable.

The sound quality degraded significantly about 15 minutes into the 4pm meeting, broadcast via the Town of Hay River’s YouTube channel. After two attempts, and with barely any words audible, the town gave up.

“Our apologies. We are not able to overcome the technical issues so we will record a presentation and post it up tomorrow morning,” the town posted to Facebook.

Hay River town council meetings – which are broadcast from the same room, apparently using the same hardware and software – have occasionally suffered similar problems in the past.



Before Tuesday’s meeting was abandoned, Mayor Kandis Jameson pledged that her community would support the neighbouring Kátł’odeeche First Nation, which has lost a number of buildings to the Hay River-KFN wildfire, including its band office.

Both Hay River and First Nation residents have been under an evacuation order since Sunday, May 14. The fire has now burned some 3,000 hectares, though in recent days most new areas burned have come at its eastern flank, away from the communities.

“Our neighbours and friends have lost homes, buildings and the land that they live off,” said Jameson.

“Their strong culture will persevere through their rebuild and our government and community will be there to support them.”



She told Hay River residents: “We know that this has been extremely stressful on so many levels and we are doing everything we can to get you back home as soon as it is safe.

“To be clear, we will be relying on the advice of the forest fire experts when it comes to ending the evacuation. When they tell us it is safe for people to return, we will act quickly to end the evacuation.”

Earlier in the week, the town said work to devise a return plan was ongoing, taking into account the likelihood that the fire might continue to burn in some form for weeks to come.

Westly Steed, the NWT wildfire agency’s incident commander for the Hay River-KFN fire, was beginning a presentation about actions taken to date – and future plans to tackle the fire – when the stream broke down.

More: Where has the Hay River-KFN fire burned so far?

Efforts to fight the Hay River-KFN fire continued throughout the long weekend with no significant shifts reported. The fire remains some distance from Highway 5, around five kilometres to the south, despite concern that conditions late last week and into the weekend might drive it closer to the road.

In a Tuesday morning Facebook post, the Department of Environment and Climate Change said nearly 14 km of fire breaks had been built through the forest in an attempt to control the fire’s development. Roads have been widened to make it harder for the fire to leap across.

The department remained wary that the forest to the fire’s southeast could still allow the fire a path to Highway 5, and across the river, in a worst-case scenario.



“Until lines are built, strengthened, and held across the southern part of the fire, there will continue to be risk to the communities,” the department stated. “We’re putting our all into reaching that point as soon as possible to help people get home and feel safe again.”

Meanwhile, the NWT Association of Communities said it would decide on Thursday whether its annual meeting can go ahead in Hay River next month as planned.

The association tried to hold its AGM in Hay River last year but had to abandon that plan because of significant flooding.

“This situation is not the same as the flood, as we knew very shortly after the flood that we could not host our event there due to the extensive damage,” the association said in a Tuesday tweet.

“That is not the case for this event, as there has actually been no damage to Hay River so far.

“Hay River has done a lot of work to support our event, and any decision to cancel or change dates would have a substantial economic impact, especially having to cancel last year. We have a significant number of registrations this year, and there is not a hotel room to be found.”

The meeting is currently scheduled to take place from June 8-10.