Addressing the “heart-wrenching” wildfire situation in the NWT, territorial officials urged residents to follow orders to leave their homes when a wildfire threatens.
Premier Caroline Cochrane told reporters “one of the biggest problems” this year has been having to divert attention from fighting fires to evacuating people who have stayed behind.
Cochrane said when an evacuation alert is issued, residents should be prepared to leave if that is upgraded to an evacuation order.
“When we call the evacuation, don’t wait,” she said. “Please leave.”
Shane Thompson, environment and communities minister, said: “You could be endangering yourself and others by staying behind. We want to ensure everybody makes it out and is accounted for.”
Evacuation orders were issued for Fort Smith, Hay River, Kátł’odeeche First Nation, Enterprise and Jean Marie River over the weekend. Some residents had to be airlifted out as road access was cut off by wildfires.
Communications services were down in several communities on Sunday night as a wildfire damaged a fibre line serving the South Slave region. Cochrane said that was “really bad timing” and staff were knocking on doors to alert residents about the wildfire situation.
Jennifer Young, at the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, estimated that roughly 15 percent of the territory’s population was ordered to evacuate over the weekend.
So far, 458 evacuees had registered in Grande Prairie, Alberta, said Young, but she could not confirm the total number of people who had evacuated, adding that more people were still leaving communities.
“The past 24 hours have been unlike anything we’ve ever experienced in the Northwest Territories,” Thompson said. “What we’re experiencing in the South Slave region is truly unprecedented.”
Together, Thompson said, eight communities and more than 20 percent of NWT residents have been affected by wildfire evacuations this year.
Firefighters from Yukon, Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Alaska and South Africa have supported fire suppression efforts in the territory. More help from the Canadian Armed Forces is expected to arrive in the NWT on Tuesday, including 124 soldiers and multiple firecraft.
“Their deployment will provide us with much needed relief,” Thompson said.
The minister said this year’s wildfire season will cost more than the $56.1 million the territory spent in 2014 during the NWT’s infamous “summer of smoke.”