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Please leave, Hay River mayor begs hundreds of remaining residents

Mayor Kandis Jameson at a media briefing held via video link on August 15, 2023.
Mayor Kandis Jameson at a media briefing held via video link on August 15, 2023.


Hay River Mayor Kandis Jameson believes as many as 500 people are still in the town even as it faces a wildfire threat that she said was far different to earlier evacuations.

Hay River was also evacuated in May this year and over flooding last year but, in a briefing with reporters on Tuesday, Jameson said: “tTe previous ones are nothing compared to what we are up against now.”

This time, the town has zero communications during a widespread, days-long cell, phone and internet outage. The media briefing was conducted via Starlink satellite internet. The town said it has no indication of when communications might be restored.

After announcing she thinks up to 500 people may still be in the town, Jameson was asked how she felt about that number.



“From the heart? I’m very disappointed. I am. I say that cautiously because I know that there are so many people that have left, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart but those that are in town,” she responded.

“I know a lot of people are just at home hunkering down, and it really is life-threatening to be here – and it’s life-threatening to my first responders if I have to pull them off.

“The biggest concern I have is, if this fire starts to run at our community, of course we’re going to lose our airport … People need to understand that we’ve got a bit of a breather here. We’re going to get planes in here and get people out, but they need to get to the airport.”

Jameson expects winds to return to gusts of up to 60 km/h later in the week, “which is not in our favour,” and she repeatedly urged anyone left in the town to get to the airport and prepare to get out while flights can still take off and land. Get to the airport for 3pm on Tuesday, she said, adding that the town does not yet know where remaining evacuees will be sent.



Meanwhile, firefighters are establishing a 100-person camp as they work to keep a wildfire away from Hay River, the town said earlier on Tuesday morning.

In a 10:20am update, the Town of Hay River said there’s still no road access into or out of the community, and no essential services including food, gas or healthcare.

“Crews are attempting to go door to door to encourage remaining residents to get to the airport as there is no means of communication otherwise,” the town stated.

The fire has stalled 15 km from the west and south of Hay River, officials added, and while it has crossed the Hay River to the east, there is “no danger to the Kátł’odeeche reserve.” Jameson said she believes the entire reserve has been evacuated.

NWT Fire was said by the town to be establishing a 100-person camp to fight the fire and trying to acquire more equipment. Work had already been ongoing to build fire breaks outside the town.

“More crews have arrived for structural protection work and to set up firesmart and sprinkler systems. The fire guard to the west of Hay River is being doubled in width and extended southward to Delancey,” the town wrote, referring to Delancey Estates, about five kilometres south of the town just below the intersection of Highway 2 and Highway 5.

Hay River issued an evacuation order on Sunday afternoon in the face of a wildfire advancing rapidly from the west. That fire cut off highway access and led to a fraught overnight airlift taking remaining evacuees to Alberta.

Hundreds of residents are now in Grande Prairie, High Level, Fort McMurray and St Albert.



Remaining officials “went everywhere we could think of that people would congregate to try and get the message out yesterday,” said Jameson of efforts to get leftover residents out.

“We sent probably another 100 people from the community yesterday but it’s slow. And that scares me to death,” she added, describing leaving by boat as the absolute last resort.

“I don’t know how people would tell me they’re even here, right? If I’ve got seniors that are home, that are hunkering down, and no idea they’re there. But we are going to do our best.”