A relatively undamaged home is seen in a photo of Enterprise on August 14, 2023. Photo: Zachary Pangborn
The Hamlet of Enterprise, the NWT community worst-hit by the summer’s wildfires, is preparing to allow residents home on Friday – if they have homes to return to.
In practice, the hamlet’s mayor said, there are only about six homes still standing that are safe to live in and awaiting the return of their occupants.
Michael St Amour estimated 11 or 12 people, out of a population of 120, can come home on Friday. (Some others had already returned.)
“We’re comfortable that the people that can return will be accommodated for,” said St Amour. The hamlet has been working to connect houses to a temporary grid or generators and is able to provide water and sewer service as needed. Medical needs will be served by Hay River as services reopen.
But dozens more residents remain in limbo after their homes were destroyed by a fire that ripped through the community on August 13.
A special council meeting on Wednesday night addressed the options for residents who lost their homes. St Amour said 15 to 20 residents attended by phone and two were there in person.
“We had our staff go through each resident [that lost a home] and ask them what they wanted: whether they wanted to have temporary housing in Hay River, or in Enterprise, or down south,” said the mayor.
Of those who attended, he reported, 10 residents said they wanted to return to the hamlet. Council approved the purchase of 10 homes for those residents at the meeting, with the aim of having move-in-ready homes available in Enterprise as early as mid-November.
St Amour estimated the cost at between $150,000 and $250,000 per house, reaching up to $350,000 for larger families.
Other residents are looking into temporary housing in Hay River, while some remain in the south.
The mayor said families with school-aged children are being told they shouldn’t return to Enterprise yet for safety reasons.
“We’re trying to keep the children away from Enterprise because of all the danger that’s still around,” St Amour said. “We didn’t want to have children get hurt.”
Hay River is one option for families who wish to return north for their childrens’ schooling with minimal disruption. Schools will open in Hay River on Monday, September 25.
How housing options will work
Some residents are still undecided about next steps.
“We left it up to individual residents for what they wanted to do, if they wanted to come back or not,” said St Amour.
For those who accept temporary housing in Enterprise, next steps look different depending on their insurance situation.
Some insurance companies have a home allowance for displacement, which will help cover the cost. This can include covering the monthly rate to live in temporary housing while safe lots are prepared.
St Amour said insurers would work with the hamlet, and residents’ temporary homes could be moved onto the finished lots if desired.
“When their house is moved to their property, their insurance company would file their claim and pay Enterprise the price for the house.”
Residents who were renting before the evacuation would lease their home through the hamlet.
For those without insurance, the GNWT’s Disaster Assistance Policy is meant to support people who lost property and can’t claim through insurance.
“Right now, Enterprise is putting the money upfront,” said St Amour.
Last week, federal emergency preparedness minister Harjit Sajjan and NWT MP Michael McLeod met with St Amour to discuss disaster relief. St Amour said he had another meeting with McLeod coming up on Thursday.
The federal government has promised it is “expeditiously assessing” territorial requests for financial assistance related to the wildfire crisis, including “restoration or replacement of individuals’ uninsurable principle dwellings.”
“They said you get 90 percent of whatever you spend,” St Amour recalled of last week’s conversation with federal politicians.