Fire retardant is sprayed near Hay River. Photo: Town of Hay River
Return dates for evacuated communities in the NWT remain unclear, but the territory’s wildfire agency says residents will be back in Hay River “a long time before the snow falls.”
Wildfire information officer Mike Westwick made the remarks during a Thursday afternoon press conference, saying while he couldn’t predict the future, fire crews had done good work securing communities when weather allowed.
“Bottom line is: you win and lose on weather,” he said. “We’ve got some better weather starting Sunday, and you best believe that we’re going to be using every opportunity that we have to get in there.”
Mayor Kandis Jameson, during the same press conference, said her “heart stopped” when she heard reference to snowfall. She urged residents to be patient regarding when they will be allowed to return home.
“My number-one priority, obviously, is the safety of the residents of this community and everybody around us is working for that,” the mayor said.
Residents of Hay River, Kátł’odeeche First Nation and Enterprise were forced to flee their homes on August 13 as a wildfire quickly approached. Residents of Fort Smith have been out of their community since August 12.
Jay Boast, a spokesperson for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, stressed no one had “crystal balls” to predict future weather and fire behaviour.
“We understand that people want a sense of when they will be home, and that’s why we’re doing the work we’re doing,” he said.
The wildfire near Hay River has now burned 417,359 hectares, an area officials have said is six times the size of Edmonton.
The fire is one kilometre west of the airport and West Point First Nation, 1.5 kilometres west of the town centre at its closest point, and seven kilometres south of homes on Kátł’odeeche First Nation.
The wildfire caused devastating damage in Enterprise, parts of Paradise Gardens and the Patterson Road area earlier this month. It narrowly missed residential areas in Hay River following a “blow-up event” last week that forced all essential personnel except firefighters out of the town.
NWT fire said Friday may “be a very challenging day” for firefighters with hot, dry conditions and strong winds from the south, southwest and west. The agency said the fire could spread up to 20 kilometres eastward along Highway 5 toward the junction with Highway 6.
“Our firefighting efforts are focused on preparing for this event to keep the community and things people care about safe,” read a Thursday afternoon update.