A lineup of vehicles at a checkpoint outside Yellowknife. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio
After three weeks away from home, many residents of Yellowknife, Ndılǫ and Dettah are eager to sleep in their own beds again.
Shortly before the checkpoint on Highway 3 outside of Behchokǫ̀ opened to regular traffic at 11am, around 40 vehicles were lined up waiting to go through.
Several people queried why vehicles were not being allowed through earlier, as the re-entry time had already been moved from 12pm.
John Ellton and his family were among the first two-dozen vehicles waiting.
Bed, shower and a home-cooked meal
Ellton said the family had evacuated to Fort Liard, about a 10-hour drive to the southwest. They had driven back toward Yellowknife on Tuesday, sleeping in their truck overnight.
“We just wanted to go home,” he said. “Just go home and sleep in my own bed.”
Ellton said he was looking forward to no longer eating microwaved food. The first thing he planned on doing when he got home was unpacking, taking a shower and heading to bed.
Laurie Moroz said she had spent the past three weeks camping at Frank Channel, a tiny community that forms part of Behchokǫ̀, around an hour’s drive west of Yellowknife.
“We had an awesome cabin. Complete strangers lent it to us,” she said.
Moroz said Jane Weyallon Armstrong, the Monfwi MLA who lives in Behchokǫ̀, allowed the group to shower at her home. They purchased food at “awful prices” at the Northern store to eat while they waited to return home.
Moroz said they left around 9:30am to join the lineup outside the checkpoint. She said she was most looking forward to having a shower, bed and toilet again.
Another woman, who asked that she not be identified, said she had evacuated by road to Edmonton. She drove north earlier this week and spent Tuesday night in Behchokǫ̀ before heading to the checkpoint on Wednesday morning.
She said she was most looking forward to sleeping in her own bed and enjoying a home-cooked meal.
Other residents returned by air, with the first flight landing at Yellowknife’s airport at around 11am.
Around 400 people were expected to arrive by plane Wednesday from Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton, with further flights scheduled for later in the week.
Patty Olexin-Lang was one of the volunteers arranging rides and other help for evacuees as they arrived at the airport. She said about 30 to 50 volunteers had been giving people rides home throughout the day, along with St John Ambulance, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and the Tłı̨chǫ Government.
“The city has done a bang-up job in coordinating all of this,” she said.
“It’s sort of like Las Vegas style where somebody is queuing us up and people just get in and away they go. There’s no waiting.”
“It was so good to see how happy people were and grateful for the service to be available.”
No return date for South Slave communities yet
Thousands of residents from Fort Smith, Hay River, Kátł’odeeche First Nation and Enterprise are still waiting to hear when they may be able to return home.
In an update on Wednesday, the Town of Hay River said a lot of work remains to reduce the risk to the town. Work on a re-entry plan continues.
“Stay tuned for re-entry posts, safe re-entry documents, and instructions on how and when re-entry will occur,” residents were told on Wednesday.
Before people can come back, Parks Canada said, the northeastern perimeter of the wildfire threatening Fort Smith and Fort Fitzgerald must be free of hotspots and extinguished far enough that the fire will not spread outside its current boundary.
The town and Parks Canada each said structure protections around communities will need to be moved before residents can come back.
“We are getting closer each day, but we’re not there yet,” an update from Parks Canada stated.
“We know you’ve been away from home for a while now, and we’re doing everything we can to get you back as soon as it is safe to do so.”