Northwest Territories Prepares for Citizen Homecoming After Wildfire Downgrades

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The Northwest Territories are steadying themselves to welcome back citizens to Yellowknife, Dene First Nation, Ndilǫ, and Délı̨nę. The territory’s authorities anticipate the homecoming as early as September 6, following the downgrading of two major wildfires located near Yellowknife. These fires have shifted status from “out of control” to now “being held.”

An alteration of the Ingraham Trail’s status from evacuation order to an alert has correspondingly been planned by the territorial government.

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However, returnees are cautioned by Shane Thompson, the territory’s Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs, to remain patient. He encouraged citizens of these four communities to postpone their homecoming until Wednesday at noon. Such delay, he argues, ensures the availability of basic services and support upon their return.

Likewise, the territory’s Minister of Health and Social Services, Julie Green, anticipates that resources will not be available until Wednesday. Following this date, she projects an approximate month-long period for health services to fully resume.

In the interim, basic but life-sustaining services, including emergency care, some surgical capacity, inpatient beds, and primary care will be accessible. Limited capacity home care and day sheltering will also be provided.

The Yellowknife Mayor, Rebecca Alty, advises a reverse order return, suggesting that residents requiring fewer services should return first. She also cautions those returning to prepare for lengthy lines, bring adequate water and food supplies, and beware of bison on the road as well as limited hotel capacity.

Financial assistance of $750 is also offered to those who evacuated outside of the Northwest Territories. Nevertheless, William MacKay, the territory’s Finance Minister, recognizes that this sum “doesn’t cover all the expenses” of relocation.

Flights scheduled to return residents to the territory from Whitehorse, Winnipeg, and Alberta, as early as Wednesday, September 6, will continue for an estimated five days. However, officials still warn that the fires’ status change does not indicate complete safety to return.

Two other fires, identified as the ZF012 and ZF085 fires in the North Slave region, persist to be “out of control.” Currently, 325 personnel, including the Canadian Armed Forces, offer support to control these fires.

Simultaneously, the community of Fort Smith combats the Wood Buffalo Complex inferno stretching across 4,722 square kilometers, with the help of 416 personnel, heavy equipment, and helicopters. A second large fire a short distance from Hay River’s airport enlarges at 4,173 square kilometers, tackled by more than 220 staff and machinery.

However, Thompson warns displaced residents from these communities, including from Kakisa and Enterprise, against travelling to Yellowknife as services remain limited. He emphasized that the priority remains to enable residents’ safe return home as soon as possible.

While it remains uncertain when other communities might be able to return to their homes, officials have scheduled another press conference for Monday at 4 pm MDT.