As wildfire evacuees prepare to embark on a mass migration back to Yellowknife, local officials along with the staff of the Northwest Territories are working vigorously to ensure a smooth transition. Yellowknife city manager, Sheila Bassi-Kellett, has confirmed that employees across various sectors including grocery stores, pharmacies, home-heating providers, taxi services and daycare providers are returning to the city in anticipation of the lifting of the evacuation order on Sept. 6.
Speaking at an online news conference, Bassi-Kellett indicated that approximately a third of evacuees are making their way home ahead of the lifting of the full evacuation edict. Jeffrey Edison, acting assistant deputy minister with the Department of Infrastructure, further bolstered this assertion by noting that critical staff, for instance, those at the airport such as baggage handlers, are among those returning early to accommodate the influx of returning citizens.
Further insight was shared by Jay Boast, the information officer at NWT Emergency Management Organization. According to him, over 2,000 individuals have preregistered for re-entry flights following a call to action issued on Saturday. This early registration permits the territory to effectively plan and allocate the right number of flights.
In addition to flight coordination, preparations are also underway to manage an expected surge in road traffic. Boast revealed plans to implement security points along Highway 1 to block access to Enterprise, a hamlet that has tragically seen 80% of its homes and businesses razed by the wildfires.
While the lifting of the general evacuation order on Wednesday remains dependent on the fire and highway conditions, Mike Westwick, the wildfire information officer, assured that no challenges are forecasted for Highway 1 in the upcoming days. In his reminder, Westwick urged drivers to exercise caution in their journeys home.
The evacuation order, which took effect on Aug. 16, encompassed Yellowknife and the neighboring First Nation communities of Ndilo and Dettah. Individuals outside the essential workers category have been cautioned against an early return home unless expressly permitted to do so. For the most part, the RCMP reports compliance with the regulation, noting no contravention under the Emergency Management Act.
However, not all evacuees have the luxury of a planned return. Some evacuees housed in seven hotels in Calgary found themselves having to leave when room availability ceased over the weekend. In response, officials have committed to finding alternative accommodations.
Additionally, a 72-hour self-reliance period has been recommended to residents upon their return. This will be crucial as the city prepares for a city-wide cleanup prompting inhabitants to discard food and other perishable items that have been sitting untouched for three weeks. Bassi-Kellett cited readiness on the city’s part to facilitate this process and assist residents in restoring their homes to pre-evacuation conditions.