Downtown Hay River in summer 2019. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
The Town of Hay River and Kátł’odeeche First Nation have published re-entry plans giving residents a sense of how they’ll be brought home once the wildfire threat ends.
The two communities have been under an evacuation order since August 13.
A vast wildfire continues to burn in the vicinity of the communities despite recent rain and cooler weather, with fire crews expressing concern that conditions this weekend could be challenging. The fire is now expected to remain active “throughout the fall,” the town stated.
Both communities set out similar steps in their plans on Friday, though they used slightly different stage numbers to explain those steps to their residents.
In each case, safety assessments of the communities will be followed by the recall of essential workers, then the general public. (A list of which occupations are considered essential is attached to the town’s plan.)
In Hay River, people living with special health needs or who reside in “compromised areas” will be asked to wait longer before coming back.
Compromised areas are defined as those “where there is loss of essential utilities, compromised infrastructure, elevated fire risks and/or loss of property.” The town did not identify those zones in its published plan on Friday saying they would be made clear “through execution of the re-entry plan.”
No dates are attached to the Hay River plan, but the First Nation said it was recalling essential workers from September 12. Others can return “once fire experts believe the fire will not spread further and basic services are in place,” the First Nation wrote.
Hay River did not set a date for essential workers to return, but said about four days were expected to elapse between that process beginning and the general public being invited to come home.
The town has said it will only consider publishing dates for re-entry after the coming weekend, primarily because the forecast is for the fire to be “highly active” across Saturday and Sunday.
Re-entry can only begin once conditions arise “where there is limited potential for spreading through fuel that will put Hay River at renewed risk,” the town asserted in an introduction to its plan.
Press conference coming up
The plans also set out basic expectations that residents should have about getting home and the supports that will follow.
“Transportation of evacuees back to the community in compliance with the reentry sequence stages will be completed by road and air from multiple host communities to Hay River,” Hay River’s plan states.
“Details on flights and procedures to return home will be communicated as arrangements are made through the Government of the Northwest Territories.
“Those who require temporary accommodation due to loss of property should contact their insurance company to discuss housing and financial assistance options. The GNWT’s Disaster Assistance Policy has been activated.”
The First Nation told its members: “KFN will provide cleaning kits, safety information and physical and mental health services once residents are home. However, some services will not be available immediately, and funding will not be available for the replacement of furniture, furnishings and appliances.” It said more information would follow.
This is the second time residents of both communities have returned home following evacuations this summer. Hay River and Kátł’odeeche First Nation residents were displaced in May following a separate wildfire, with First Nation members having to spend weeks away from home. That wildfire burned more than a dozen buildings on the First Nation’s reserve.
“The long-term recovery process had barely begun when fire again threatened the community,” the First Nation wrote on Friday.
“The current recovery process, though made more difficult by the second evacuation, will follow the same general path as in June 2023.”