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Hay River and KFN evacuees begin the long journey home

A sign welcomes home Hay River residents. Photo: Town of Hay River
A sign welcomes home Hay River residents. Photo: Town of Hay River

Thousands of evacuees from Hay River and the Kátł’odeeche First Nation were beginning journeys home from their host communities on Saturday.

Most evacuees were hosted in Alberta, though some found sanctuary for their month-long wildfire-triggered evacuation in other parts of the NWT or other provinces.

Hay River declared on Friday night that the town would reopen to residents at 9am on Saturday. The First Nation reopens at 9am on Sunday.

Made it home? Send us your photos and tell us about your trip

Highway 2 leading into Hay River formally reopened to all traffic on Saturday morning, though drivers were told to expect smoky conditions and watch for fire crews at work along the road.



Highway 1 between Jean Marie River and the Highway 3 intersection was again subject to temporary wildfire-related closures throughout Saturday. That closure would not affect travellers heading home from Alberta to the South Slave.

Exactly how many people were making the journey home on Saturday was unclear, Most residents had been preparing for a Sunday re-entry date, which the town had tentatively been working toward until it brought the date forward by a day in Friday’s announcement, and GNWT re-entry flights – for those who didn’t drive – don’t take place until Sunday.

More: What’s the latest on South Slave evacuee flights home?

Some essential workers have now been back in the community for the best part of a week.



“We are excited to welcome everyone home from such a long time away,” Mayor Kandis Jameson said in a statement posted online on Saturday morning.

“It will take a while for things to get back to normal. We are able to return due to the relentless work of the unified command, wildland fire and structural protection crews that have given us a place to return to.

“Let’s all pull together to support our friends and neighbours that have lost their livelihoods as well as those businesses that have been closed for over a month. It’s a good opportunity to go out and reconnect at coffee shops, restaurants or your favourite stores.”

Hotspots over the past 24 hours in the Hay River area, as seen on a Firms satellite map at 11am on Saturday, September 16.
Hotspots over the past 24 hours in the Hay River area, as seen on a Firms satellite map at 11am on Saturday, September 16.

On Friday, Hay River’s council said conditions outside the community had reached the point where the risk posed by residents returning was now at an acceptable level.

Active wildfires continue to burn throughout the vicinity.

Returning residents “should be prepared to see increased fire behaviour to the east of the river, including large plumes of smoke,” NWT Fire stated on Friday.

“That does not necessarily mean it is not safe – a lot of work has been done to secure the Hay River corridor and First Nation, where further protections exist because the burned area from the May fire surrounds the most populated areas of the reserve.”

Hay River is reopening under an evacuation notice, the lowest readiness level above ordinary operations. The First Nation will welcome home residents under an evacuation alert, meaning they should be ready for the possibility of leaving again at short notice.



On Saturday afternoon, the Town of Fort Smith confirmed that its residents can return from 8am on Monday.

Enterprise residents have yet to be given a return date, given the significant wildfire damage sustained by the small community south of Hay River.

What’s open?

These are the publicly available updates from Hay River stores and services:

Home Hardware
Saturday: 10am-5pm
Sunday: Closed
Monday onward: 9am-6pm

Ptarmigan Inn: Hotel
Open and accepting reservations

Ptarmigan Inn: Keys Dining
Saturday and Sunday: 8am-2pm, 5-9pm

Super A Foods
Groceries: 12-6pm daily
Gas: 8am-8pm daily

(Got an update for this list? Let us know.)