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Knowing how evacuation feels, Hay River opens its doors to Fort Smith

A sign welcomes people to Hay River
A sign welcomes people to Hay River. Sarah Sibley/Cabin Radio

Itself evacuated twice in the past two years, Hay River became an emergency centre for fleeing residents of nearby Fort Smith on Saturday.

Flooding in 2022 and a wildfire in May this year twice forced Hay River residents to head elsewhere. Now, the town’s recreation centre is opening to Fort Smith residents who are under their own evacuation order.

“We’ve got health services there and our own staff to check people in. We’ve got cots set up and food in place there for when they arrive,” said Patrick Bergen, the Town of Hay River’s assistant senior administrator, describing what evacuees can expect at the rec centre.

“We are open until midnight tonight and then 8am again tomorrow morning. And then we’ll maintain an 8am till 10pm shift,” he added.

Initially, Hay River has made 150 cots available at the rec centre. More could be set up in the coming days if needed.



“We’ll see how many people show up tonight and then kind-of go from there,” said Bergen.

Only just over two months have passed since Hay River residents were allowed to return from their own evacuation. The town is still working on some of the longer-term recovery work from last year’s flooding, though it escaped this year’s wildfire threat mostly unscathed.

But work to prepare for a scenario like this began days ago, first when the tiny community of Kakisa to the southwest faced a possible evacuation, and more recently when the challenge facing Fort Smith became clearer.

On Facebook, Hay River residents began offering assistance. For example, there’s a group dedicated to helping find temporary homes for pets, who can’t stay at the evacuation centre. Hay River’s youth centre is extending its hours on Sunday.

“I think we’d all like to be focused on our normal day jobs for a change, but, you know, it’s part and parcel of living up north,” said Bergen.

“We know that other communities assisted us just a month or two ago, right?”