Yellowknife residents meet to discuss remaining fire defence work on August 18, 2023. Andrew Goodwin/Cabin Radio
The City of Yellowknife has sent a letter to many volunteers who stayed behind after last week’s evacuation, telling them their work is done – and asking them to leave.
A letter signed by city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett and circulated on Saturday states that volunteers performing roles from building fire breaks to staffing kitchens have “pitched in wherever needed to help keep our city safe,” adding that the city “could not have managed the last few weeks without you.”
But the letter continues: “Now that we have completed the fire protection work and the situation has stabilized, we have reviewed the number of people required to assist with any remaining tasks. As a result of this assessment, we have determined that we no longer require the same level of support and will be reducing the size of the team.”
“We thank you for your contributions to our efforts and encourage you to take this time to get some well-deserved rest,” the letter states.
“As you prepare to leave the city, please make sure you follow the latest guidance from the Government of Northwest Territories on road conditions and evacuating safely.”
The letter is understood to have been sent to all of the 100-plus people on a WhatsApp group for volunteers.
How many people, in total, received the letter is not clear. The City of Yellowknife has been approached for comment.
For the past week, city staff and contractors have been augmented by dozens of volunteers either clearing brush, building fire breaks or running support services – from food preparation to helping to run sewer trucks or empty garbage.
But the city now considers its defences against the wildfire west of the community to be substantially complete. In front of the city’s final line of defence are further sets of fire breaks and other defences carved out by territorial crews and the military.
While one volunteer reached by Cabin Radio said they could “sense the mutiny” among other volunteers over receiving the letter, another said “it’s about that time,” adding the city seemed to them about as safe as it could be made.
A third volunteer – all were granted anonymity to discuss their relationship with the city – said there was never an expectation that the work would last forever, but the letter was “the first and only communication” volunteers had received on the matter.
Who gets to stay in Yellowknife and who must leave is a touchy subject for some. The return of MLA Katrina Nokleby to the city, and some comments she made to NNSL, led Mayor Rebecca Alty to call her “incredibly disrespectful” on Friday evening. By Saturday, RCMP said they had opened an investigation into Nokleby’s return, which the MLA asserts was carried out legally under the evacuation order.
Beyond the volunteers affected by the letter, the city’s request also, indirectly, sends a wider message to residents that the municipality is not contemplating bringing everyone home in the near future – or at least, not soon enough to make keeping the volunteers in town a desirable option.
Some volunteers have already been contracted by the city or hired by contractors performing essential work, meaning they are able to stay.
Others, according to the letter, must now leave the city as most evacuees did more than a week ago.