Escaping the ominous threat of wildfires in southern Northwest Territories, evacuees now express their mounting dissatisfaction with the region’s government and associated entities over the mishandling of financial aid and accommodation assistance.
Initially, N.W.T. officials announced that self-evacuees would not be eligible for financial aid. However, as of late last Friday, a disputed funding plan surfaced, rendering support to those who maneuvered independently out of the fire-ridden territory. This abrupt turn of events roused confusion and instilled further distress among the already strained dislocated residents.
As the personal tales of evacuees emerged, the simmering frustration became palpable. Pauline Heron of Fort Smith shared her unsettling reflections, “It just seemed like we were falling through the cracks.” Trapped in Edmonton due to the community’s evacuation on August 12, the subsequent decisions of Heron and her husband, Brian—and their dog, Mooch—were marked by uncertainty and increasing financial strain.
Heron’s hope for having their room charges covered, in spite of booking independently, at the evacuation center in Leduc, Alta., was swiftly dashed. Undeterred, the couple sought help at the chaotic Expo Centre in Edmonton. Alas, they were met with the disappointing, and guilt-inducing, message – ‘we can’t help you.’
This looming sense of guilt was further exacerbated when they were told to abandon their current hotel room—with no guarantee of pet-friendly accommodation—from the Red Cross coordinated evacuation centre. The organization shifted questions regarding accommodation confusion towards the silent City of Edmonton.
In the midst of this turmoil, the couple’s current location in Edmonton offered a silver lining. Brian could visit his grandson, currently battling leukemia in the city, more frequently. In the end, with the support of an advocate, the couple’s accommodation was paid for, including a reimbursement for their prior days.
Yet, the feeling of being dismissed and scorned remains vivid for Pauline. “It just seemed like we did something wrong, and I don’t know what it is.”
Freshly relocated to Yellowknife in early August, the Goodwin brothers found themselves unexpectedly amidst an evacuation order and financially on the ropes due to the wildfire. Reliant on the goodwill of others for their trek down south, they grappled with this uncomfortable change of circumstances and could not secure any emergency funding from their native government, the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin government in the Yukon.
However, they found a glimmer of hope in the N.W.T.’s newly announced financial support options, adding a potential lifeline to their economically strained situation.
For Shanna Schaefer, fleeing first from Fort Smith and then from Hay River, the evacuation-induced traumas accumulated. Opting to cover evacuation costs independently to allow others with more pressing needs to benefit from the immediate resources added financial concerns to her crisis.
Schaefer hailed the N.W.T. government’s unexpected U-turn—a one-time payment for self-driving evacuees—as a much-needed relief. However, she also pointed out the added anxiety caused by the inconsistencies and contradictions from the officials.
In his defense concerning the financial assistance process, government spokesperson Todd Sasaki admitted to “growing pains” but stated that expediting the travel support program remains a priority. Meanwhile, Schaefer echoes the plea of many other evacuees—demanding a clear plan for post-evacuation mental health support and expectations of future financial relief.
“I know I feel super traumatized.” Schaefer said regarding her future return to the aftermath of the evacuation.