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Watch: Hay River ‘in better condition than we imagined’


Footage from the burn area inside Hay River’s western periphery on Saturday. Video: Submitted

The Mayor of Hay River says the town appears to be mostly undamaged by a wildfire as Saturday dawned, an escape she found scarcely believable.

Kandis Jameson and her dogs were on the last Canadian Armed Forces Hercules flight out of the town on Friday evening as a wildfire closed in from the west, triggering an evacuation of all essential personnel except firefighters.

In a Saturday afternoon press confernence, the mayor said it was an emotional rollercoaster having to flee town.

“To look out the window and see that fire roaring towards your town was something I will never forget,” she said. “I felt like I was abandoning the people that were working the hardest for us, and that was a really tough one to come to terms with. But it was time to get out.”



A screengrab of the Hay River fire on August 25, 2023. Photo: Sentinel Hub Playground
A screengrab of the Hay River fire on August 25, 2023. Photo: Sentinel Hub Playground
One of Mayor Kandis Jameson's dogs on an evacuation flight. Photo: Town of Hay River
One of Mayor Kandis Jameson’s dogs on an evacuation flight. Photo: Town of Hay River

On Saturday morning, Jameson told residents: “Waking this morning, we see that Hay River has survived in much better condition than any of us imagined last night.”

NWT Fire said in a Saturday afternoon update there was “significant growth” of the fire on the east side of the river, across Highway 5, overnight.

The agency said one cabin and a travel trailer were destroyed to the west of the town, near the shore of Great Slave Lake. No damage occurred to critical infrastructure, such as the town’s water treatment plant, nor the most populated residential neighbourhoods in Hay River.

“The wildfire crew has relentlessly placed aircraft in the air and boots on the ground to attack and control this fire,” Jameson wrote.



“Hay River is thankful for the efforts of our own Hay River fire department and the structural protection crew operating under Fire Chief Travis Wright, who prepared Hay River and surrounding areas with fire protection that included fire breaks, sprinkler lines, firesmarting buildings and fire-retardant lines.

“Fire crews from over a dozen other communities, with our own Hay River Fire Department, completed drills day after day – when time permitted – to be ready for last night and the days to come. We thank them and their immediate local support contractors, who stood their ground last night to fight for our community.

“Our thoughts are with those who have had their livelihoods impacted and our thanks are with all those that have been brave.”

‘We won a little bit of a battle’

Aaron Campbell was among the essential workers who remained in Hay River overnight.

“It was pretty scary,” he said.

Campbell said he took his camper to the Fisherman’s Wharf where he had a boat set up ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

He said fire trucks were “busy all night,” adding a firefighting crew from Nelson, BC, is among those on the frontlines.

“They know what they’re doing so I trust them,” he said. “To be on the ground, it feels like those guys are making the right calls.”



“It feels like we won a little bit of a battle last night,” he said, adding: “There’s still a lot of work to do.”

Crews ‘doing everything possible’

NWT Fire said north winds throughout most of Saturday are expected to push the fire back on itself in many areas. The wildfire agency said conditions should improve visibility, limit fire growth toward Hay River and the Kátł’odeeche First Nation, and allow for air missions.

“Our team alongside the Town of Hay River are doing everything possible to protect the community and reduce those risks – with all tactics on the table – from directly attacking the fire as it’s safe, to action from the air, to building fuel breaks and digging away fuel at the edge of the fire with heavy equipment,” the agency stated in a Saturday afternoon update.

On Sunday, NWT Fire said, temperatures are expected to climb to 30C. Southerly to westerly winds and extremely dry conditions could cause severe wildfire activity and fire growth to the north and east. Firefighting efforts are focused on reducing those risks.

Wildfire information officer Mike Westwick said around seven additional air tankers were headed for Hay River and air attacks were well under way as of Saturday lunchtime. He said aircraft are trying to reduce the fire’s intensity and slow its growth.

“We had helicopters flying throughout the day yesterday still, despite all the challenging conditions, with their buckets as much as possible,” he said, adding the number-one priority is safety.

“There’s a certain point where it’s unsafe to fly, it’s unsafe to drop water and fire retardant in areas. And that’s just the reality,” he said.

On Saturday, crews are expected to hit the north end of the fire that’s closest to the Kátł’odeeche First Nation.



At a Saturday afternoon press conference, Mayor Jameson said “there are still challenging days ahead.” She urged anyone remaining, who is not required to be in the town, to leave if they can.

“The last thing they do is remove the essential workers, so if that doesn’t tell people how serious a situation we’re in, then I’m not sure what will,” she said.

Jameson said, to her knowledge, there are no flights out of Hay River on Saturday, but the Coast Guard has two ships anchored in the harbour if more people need to be pulled out.