As Yellowknife prepares for residents to begin returning, fire crews are still facing huge challenges elsewhere in keeping the flames at bay, with flames at Hay River nearly reaching the town’s hospital.
Mike Westwick, fire information officer, told CTV News Channel on Sunday that crews mounted a “strong defence” yesterday amid strong winds and “significant” fire activity in the area.
“It reached within about half a kilometre of the hospital here in Hay River, so getting very close,” he said. “But our team was able to push back on that fire and keep this place safe. It was a successful day, it was a tough day.”
They relied heavily on air support to try and push the blaze back, deploying numerous helicopters and airtankers to drop water on the fire.
It’s unknown when residents in this area and Fort Smith will be able to return home, but residents of Yellowknife may be able to come back as early as Sept. 6, officials announced Saturday.
Westwick said the fires nearest to Yellowknife are still “being held,” and that progress has been steady.
“Our team’s made good progress there knocking down hotspots, working their way up the perimeter of the fire that was closest to Yellowknife and mopping up behind that,” he said, adding that the fire remained held despite some strong winds over the last few days.
“There’s nothing that can make us happier as responders than seeing folks coming back and getting back to their lives.”
Around 300 firefighters remain in the area, and Westwick cautioned that work is still ongoing to keep the fires in check.
The Emergency Measures Office has arranged flights, road access and transportation from airports, he said, but those returning should be aware that services may be limited at first, and that crews are still working.
“You’re going to see equipment and people working on the road and working along the roads, and we urge you when you return – not only throughout the entire journey, but especially on Highway 3, where we might have folks working – to be especially careful out there.”
Residents have been told to begin preparing for the journey back now, and that they should bring enough food, prescriptions and cash to be self-reliant for 72 hours after returning. Those coming back by plane can register through the territory’s public safety web page to securing returning flights home and allow officials to know how many flights will be needed.
Officials clarified that no one should drive to the border until Sept. 6, as there are no resources set up for anyone thinking they want to just wait up north for the roads to be opened.
Westwick said they’re starting to see some cooler temperatures in the region, after days of temperatures in the high 20s and even early 30s. There were no heat warnings in place for any regions of the Northwest Territories as of Sunday afternoon, a change from the previous week.
“We’re starting to see some temperatures here in the south of the territory that are getting a little bit below 20,” Westwick said. “Today we’re getting some rain here in Hay River, (but) there’s not a lot of other rain in the forecast.”
He said that they spoke to a meteorologist today, who warned them that they will need to remain vigilant for a while due to the weather.
“This is obviously an extraordinarily late fire season in terms of this level of activity here in the Northwest Territories, and firefighters are going to be hard at work for a long time yet here,” Westwick said.