The Town of Hay River said in an update Monday morning that crews were working to protect structures. It added more firefighters, four helicopters and water bombers were arriving to help while Hay River’s western fire guard would be expanded.
While communications services are down in Hay River, the town said Starlink wifi is currently available at KP Woodright Ltd. It added emergency crews remain in town.
The town said the wildfire travelled approximately 39 kilometres toward Hay River causing “significant structure damage” in Enterprise, parts of Paradise Gardens and the Patterson Road area. Northwestel confirmed on Monday the wildfire had also damaged telecommunications infrastructure.
Wildfire officials in the NWT have said they believed the wildfire that prompted the evacuation order for the Hay River region travelled up to 50 kilometres in the space of a day.
The town said Monday morning it was “critical” that residents still in the community head to the airport. It warned that the road out of the community is not currently passable and there are no support services available on the highway.
An aircraft with 100 seats was set to be at the Hay River airport at 11:20 am to take evacuees to Fort McMurray.
Driven by high westerly winds, wildfire SS052 had burned through the community of Enterprise and cut off the highway south of Hay River by the end of Sunday, despite starting the day more than 60 km to the west of the town.
Satellite hot-spot detection suggests Enterprise sustained a direct hit while photos have emerged showing damage to buildings in the hamlet. So far, there is no formal confirmation of the extent of the damage to the community.
“Enterprise has been breached by fire and there has been damage,” NWT government wildfire information officer Mike Westwick told CBC North’s The Trailbreaker shortly before 8am on Monday.
“Our priority today is regrouping after getting everyone safe and taking steps that we can to keep the people and communities of the territory safe as we face down this unprecedented situation.”
Westwick said SS042 “grew east to the tune of up to 50 km” on Sunday and more westerly winds are expected on Monday.
“There is a chance for some showers but we do expect significant, continuing fire activity,” he said.
The rapidity with which the situation evolved on Sunday was stunning.
Only at noon did the NWT government first suggest that Highway 1 east of SS052 might be at risk of closure because of the fire’s progression east. But by 4pm, Hay River had moved from no heightened state of alert to a full evacuation order for thousands of people, including hundreds of evacuees who had only just arrived from Fort Smith, a community normally two hours’ drive away to the east that had been similarly threatened by fire.
Airlifts took place through the night in both Hay River and Fort Smith to get remaining residents to safety.
As of 8am on Monday there are no confirmed reports of damage, injury or fatalities within the boundaries of either town.
However, with a widespread communications blackout ongoing – wildfire damage to fibre lines is suspected – it’s almost impossible to confirm the situation on the highway heading south or in smaller communities like Enterprise.
“We don’t have that information as yet,” said Westwick, asked for any more information about the fate of Enterprise, though he did say he understood there to be “significant structural damage at Paradise Gardens and south through Enterprise.”
Some rain did fall on both Hay River and Fort Smith in the past six hours, though not a great deal. More showers are in the Monday forecast.
Rain would “buy time to get work done and keep the community safe,” said Westwick.
“We are going to be doing everything we can to protect the Kátł’odeeche First Nation and Hay River.”