A sign welcomes people to Hay River. Sarah Sibley/Cabin Radio
The Town of Hay River has released dates for its phased re-entry plan, with the general public allowed to return as soon as Sunday, September 17.
The town said on Tuesday night that “additional backburn activity” completed by fire crews had sufficiently reduced the risk to the community for its first re-entry phase to begin.
Even so, NWT Fire said there had been “extreme burning conditions” on Tuesday that created “more than 10 giant columns of thick smoke to the east of the Hay River.”
The wildfire agency said the earlier controlled burn, at the edge of a finger of wildfire to the east of the Kátł’odeeche First Nation, had been successful. “Work remains tomorrow. This is an important step in securing the reserve and the Hay River corridor as it will prevent westward growth should the fire get winds from the east in the future,” the agency wrote on Tuesday evening.
The town’s announcement means essential workers will be allowed to return as of 9am on Wednesday.
The town said only essential workers and immediate family included on a re-entry list will be allowed past the checkpoint into Hay River from that time. Anyone with questions is asked to contact the town by email.
“We welcome back our essential services into the community and thank you for reopening our community ahead of the general public,” Mayor Kandis Jameson was quoted as saying in a press release.
“The amazing work of all the fire crews and support people have allowed Hay River to stand under the most dire conditions. We thank all of you for your efforts. We look forward to seeing you all home soon.”
NWT Fire said defences held firm along the Hay River corridor on Tuesday “despite several flare-ups very close to town” in difficult conditions.
The forecast for Wednesday is for a high of 20C with winds from the south and west gusting to 25 km/h. “This may cause growth to the east. These are favourable winds for finishing our work on the ignition operation tomorrow,” NWT Fire wrote.
After essential workers have completed preparations, which the town estimates will take four days, the general public will be allowed to return to Hay River.
Town councillors plan to meet on Friday to assess the risk level before confirming conditions are appropriate for residents to return.