Cat McGurk at a briefing for volunteers building fire defences for Yellowknife. Photo: Submitted
A Yellowknife city councillor who worked on efforts to build fire defences says a city letter telling volunteers to leave “was inappropriate.”
Cat McGurk said volunteers knew leaving the evacuated city was inevitable, but the way Saturday’s letter was worded – and its method of delivery, a WhatsApp group chat of more than 100 volunteers – “lacked clarity and respect.”
In a separate message to the same group chat on Sunday, McGurk wrote: “Today I have been meeting with administration to discuss this and hopefully find level ground with them. So far they have been receptive.
“We are all just doing the best we can with the information available to us. That is said not as a pass for anyone, but a practical reality.”
McGurk added: “It is important to understand that our roles are changing and this was inevitable. We need to approach this with humility and earnest consideration. You have all been instrumental to this operation, and that is not lost on me, or anyone willing to listen.”
In its letter, the city thanked the dozens of people who volunteered to stay in Yellowknife and support fire defence operations, in roles that ranged from clearing brush and building fire breaks to working in kitchens.
But some volunteers bristled at having their efforts terminate in a group letter that, in places, read like they were being laid off from a job – and while never directly ordering them to go, announced: “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.”
“That letter was a difficult read for everyone, myself included,” McGurk wrote.
“While we all knew that our roles combating this incident were temporary, it is still difficult to watch this start to dissolve.”
The City of Yellowknife confirmed on Sunday that it had sent the letter to “approximately 100 people.”
“These individuals stepped up and have done a great job. However, as we transition from preparing for the emergency response by building fire breaks and installing sprinklers into monitoring and maintenance of these defences, on-the-ground work efforts are scaling back,” a city spokesperson stated.
“As we move into week three of the emergency, the work required is changing. Many of these people have transitioned to being essential workers for various contractors, and if they’re working for contractors now, they should continue to report to their supervisor at their company.
“For others, if they’re not working for a contractor or if they don’t have a current assignment right now, we’re encouraging folks to please follow the evacuation order.”