“Quickly and efficiently.”
Here’s how Hay River Mayor Kandis Jameson plans to organize re-entry into her community.
On Thursday, the city announced it would release its plan for when residents can return on Friday. Those looking for specific dates on when it will happen will have to wait until next week.
“This weekend’s hot, dry weather carries a significant risk of the fire growing,” Jameson said.
Mike Westwick, fire information officer for the Northwest Territories government, said the trend of rising temperatures seen this week “kind of intensifies” over the weekend.
With temperatures in the mid-twenties, southerly, southeasterly winds and continuing dry conditions, Westwick said there was “potential to push the fire to places we don’t want it to go”.
Westwick also said crews have been focusing on two fingers that ignited on the east side of the Hay River and spread into the Kátł’odeeche First Nation reserve.
Others have been scraping the ground near the edge of the fire to remove any possible fuel.
Firefighters want to get through the weekend before announcing specific dates.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Jameson said, “but we’re hoping within the next week or 10 days.”
Instead, he said Friday’s plan will focus on “where the risk level needs to be when we can start bringing people back,” as well as the re-entry phases.
Hay River residents were forced to leave their community on August 13 (the second time this summer) when strong winds pushed a wildfire at least 40 kilometers into the city in a single day. That fire remains a threat to the community and moved 1.5 kilometers from the airport and 500 meters from the health center and Westpoint First Nation.
Since then, residents have spread across several cities, primarily in Alberta.
“I understand the frustration,” Jameson said, but he also praised community residents.
“They take care of each other, they support each other… We’re almost there. You know, every day it’s closer to being home and we can’t wait to welcome everyone.”
Drive, dine and bewilder
The evacuees have been making the most of the situation.
Mattie McNeill says her curiosity kept her busy during the evacuation.
The 78-year-old Hay River resident has been exploring every corner of Peace River, Alta., for the past few weeks.
“I found some beautiful places right downtown that I didn’t even know existed,” he said.
Usually when he traveled south, he would stop at a motel, order pizza, and be on his way the next day.
Now, he said, “I’m trying to go to different places, I’m surprised by how many restaurants they have and some have the most exquisite food.”
When he’s not driving or dining, McNeill chats and solves puzzles with other evacuees.
Her experience has been overwhelmingly positive, from the support she received to meeting new people.
But he understands that other evacuees are eager to return home.
“I’m an older lady…I don’t have some of the concerns that some of the people I’ve talked to have,” she said. “I don’t have kids to take care of and keep me busy during the day. I don’t have a lot of money worries, because I don’t have any mortgage payments to make… So I think there are some people who are worried, [and] “I think a lot of them have reason to be worried.”
Still, she misses home: more clothes, more books, a regular routine.
On her way out, she says she wore some pretty dresses, but she doesn’t have matching shoes, just a pair of “dirty old sneakers.”
“So that looks really interesting when I’m downtown, I tell you.”
He really wants to come home to see how the tips of the leaves change color.
But when you travel south again in the future, you will have a new pit stop.
“I might decide to stay a day or two in Peace River now that I know the places I can go and the things I can do,” he said. “And the places I want to eat again.”