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Hay River delays return plan with fire still ‘volatile’

An aerial image shows fire activity to the east of the Hay River on September 11, 2023. Photo: GNWT
An aerial image shows fire activity to the east of the Hay River on September 11, 2023. Photo: GNWT


Hay River’s town council chose not to announce firm return dates for residents on Monday, saying a wildfire burning outside the community remains volatile and is growing in some areas.

Instead, councillors said they would “review conditions and progress made” on Tuesday. Thousands of evacuees from Hay River and the Kátł’odeeche First Nation are waiting for a date to come home, having been displaced by the wildfire since August 13.

The First Nation, which had earlier said essential workers would begin returning on Tuesday, pushed their return to Wednesday at the earliest, citing a “massive fire burning by the Sandy Creek area” to the east of the community.

A wildfire outside Hay River and KFN is seen from the air on September 11, 2023. Footage: GNWT

“The fire conditions in the hot, dry and windy weather are volatile and have contributed to the growth of the fire in a finger east of the KFN area,” the Town of Hay River stated on Monday evening.



“Containment of this finger of the fire has not yet been completed and remains an elevated risk to the community.”

As a result, the town said, the recall of essential workers “will not be executed at this time.” The town said essential workers had been contacted and told of their inclusion on a re-entry list, and anyone not listed would be denied access when the time came.

A basic re-entry plan was published by the town and First Nation last week but did not contain firm dates for each stage.

Registration for flights home to both Hay River and Fort Smith was due to open at 8am on Tuesday, despite the lack of a firm date for any such flights.



That registration window will last until 8pm on Thursday.

NWT Fire said Monday had brought winds gusting to 40 km/h around Hay River alongside hot and dry conditions, resulting in “severe fire activity” east of the First Nation. (The town occupies the west bank of the Hay River, the First Nation the east bank.)

The temperature on Monday reached 27C, NWT Fire stated, roughly twice the ordinary high of 14C for this time of year.

On Tuesday, the wildfire agency stated, “conditions are not expected to let up.” The forecast is for a high of 25C with winds gusting to 25 km/h from the west. Some overnight fire growth was also possible.

“We are considering ignition operations to head off potential westward growth of the second finger of fire within the Kátł’odeeche First Nation reserve – which would play a role in securing both the reserve and the Town of Hay River,” NWT Fire stated.

“These will only go ahead should conditions allow.”