Wildfire officials in the Northwest Territories say a community that’s been evacuated for weeks due to a wildfire has received significant rain this weekend.
Hay River’s 3,500 residents have been out of their homes for two weeks due to the ongoing fire threat and are not being allowed to return this week as residents of Yellowknife will be on Wednesday.
Late last week, N.W.T. wildfire information officer Mike Westwick warned that Hay River could experience a few days with strong winds and high temperatures, making a dangerous situation even worse.
But NWT Fire says in a Sunday update that an estimated 17 millimetres of rain has fallen in the area since Saturday evening.
The update says that along with winds from the north, the precipitation will mean “significantly reduced fire activity and almost no progression over the next two days.”
But it cautions that this “is the only rain in the forecast for a long period of time” and that clearing skies and warming temperatures are expected throughout the week.
“That means there is a lot of work that must be done to dig up and extinguish forest fuel from the edge of the fire inwards to prevent this fire from once again threatening the Town of Hay River — where the edge of the fire is just half a kilometre away from critical infrastructure and downtown, and nearly at the main road in and out of town,” the update Sunday read.
The update also noted that the area remains in extreme drought, pointing out that the drought code in the area sits at 800. For context, it said that anything above 340 is extreme.
Residents of Yellowknife and a nearby First Nation who have been evacuated for almost the same amount of time as people from Hay River are being told to start planning now for their return home, beginning Wednesday.
Residents who left on evacuation flights are encouraged to pre-register for return flights home, either online through the territory’s public safety web page or by phone lines which are already open.
Territory officials, meanwhile, said work is also underway to get the road route home ready for Yellowknife residents, which includes working with the Alberta government to ensure enough fuel is available at the limited fuel stops along the route.
Shane Thompson, minister of municipal and community affairs, told a news conference Saturday that officials aren’t forgetting other communities.
“Our teams are still working very hard to fight the fire outside your communities and our priority is to get you home as soon as it’s safe,” Thompson said, adding that people from those communities shouldn’t head to Yellowknife, because support wouldn’t be there for them.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 3, 2023.
The Canadian Press