Many Hay River residents are heading home on Thursday, but the Kátł’odeeche First Nation remains closed as assessments of wildfire damage take place.
The Hay River-KFN fire has burned entirely on the First Nation’s side of the river. While Hay River has sustained no damage, more than a dozen of the First Nation’s buildings – including its band office – have been hit.
Residents have been away from their homes since an evacuation order on May 14.
The Town of Hay River has said its residents can start coming home on Thursday, but the First Nation has said it needs more time to recover from the wildfire’s effects.
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The First Nation said late on Wednesday that an inspection team from KFN and the NWT’s Department of Municipal and Community Affairs would start assessing buildings and homes on Thursday morning.
“It is anticipated that many homes and buildings will be safe to live in, but it will take time to assess their safety,” the First Nation wrote on Facebook, adding that some trees within the community are still burning and falling.
No residents will be allowed back onto the First Nation’s reserve until power, water and sewer services are restored, which will include replacing burned-down power poles and power lines to households.
The First Nation said assessments of environmental hazards like fuel spills and fire debris must also be carried out, while the Ehdah Cho store needs “to be cleaned professionally to deal with possible toxic waste.”
“Security will be increased and the area will be closed to the general public. The reserve will be open to essential workers only,” the statement continued.
“There are flare-ups within the community, which is concerning. The weather calls for hotter days, which may cause more flare-ups and dryer conditions and smoke. These may pose a risk for people with health issues.”
The First Nation said residents who can stay in Hay River, either in accommodation of their own or with family and friends, are welcome to do so, but nobody can return home to the reserve yet.
“Once the Maca-KFN inspections have been completed, KFN will have better information about what homes are safe to return to. For now, stay where you are,” the First Nation wrote, promising a further update on Friday.