Residents of Yellowknife, Dene First Nation, Ndilǫ, and Délı̨nę in the Northwest Territories can anticipate the return to their homes as early as September 6th. Officials announced this timeline at a press conference on Saturday, also mentioning their intention to revise the evacuation order for Ingraham Trail to an alert.
The developments occurred after two severe wildfires near Yellowknife, previously deemed ‘out of control’, were reclassified as ‘being held’. The territory’s Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs, Shane Thompson, expressed his delight at the progression while reminding residents of the extensive work required to ensure basic services and support were operational upon their return.
The territory’s Health and Social Services Minister, Julie Green, however, warned residents to expect limited resources upon their return. According to Green, full capacity health services will be unavailable until Wednesday and will possibly take another month to be completely restored. Initial services will include emergency care, some surgical capacity, inpatient beds, and primary care. Home care and day sheltering will be open but with limited capacity.
Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty suggested a phased return for residents, with those demanding fewer services returning first. She asked returning homeowners to be prepared for long queues, bison on the roads, and limited hotel capacity during their journey.
To minimize the pressure on services, Alty recommended people to pack supplies sufficient for 72 hours. These should include non-perishable food items, medicines, and cash. For those in need, overnight shelters will be open in Yellowknife upon arrival, and a free dinner will be served on September 6th, announced Kimberly Riles, CEO of the territory’s health and social services authority.
Financial assistance of $750 intends to offset some of the cost for those who evacuated outside of Northwest Territories, according to Finance Minister William MacKay. Over 5,000 applications were received for this aid, which will be dispensed on a first-come-first-serve basis. Additionally, pre-registration for flights from Whitehorse, Winnipeg, and Alberta for returnees is now available, informed Jay Boast from the Emergency Management Organization.
Two wildfires, the Behchoko/Yellowknife fire and the Ingraham Trail Fire, covering 1,670 and 501 square kilometers, respectively, are now classified as ‘being held.’ This classification indicates a fire unlikely to spread beyond existing boundaries under present and foreseeable conditions, according to officials.
The change in status, however, does not imply safety for returnees and Wednesday’s tentative return date is subject to changes influenced by the progression of the wildfires.
In contrast, two fires within the North Slave region, ZF012 and ZF085, remain ‘out of control’. Their parameters are undefined, and containment is unestablished, with zones spanning 17,316 and 49,460 hectares, respectively. Their containment is aided by 325 personnel, including elements of the Canadian Armed Forces, 14 helicopters, four air tanker groups and heavy equipment.
Simultaneously, the Wood Buffalo Complex is handled by 416 personnel, comprising 71 pieces of heavy equipment, 21 helicopters, and 205 firefighters and structural protection personnel. A secondary wildfire, near Hay River’s airport, is being managed by over 220 personnel, 12 helicopters, 23 pieces of heavy equipment, and air tankers.
Residents displaced from Kakisa and Enterprise communities are discouraged from heading to Yellowknife due to limited services. They are urged to remain patient as efforts are underway to make return safe. Support services for these residents will not be available in Yellowknife for the time being.
A follow-up press conference, providing more updates, is scheduled for Monday at 4 p.m. MDT.