N.W.T. now focused on emergency recovery after wildfire evacuations, officials say

N.W.T. officials say the territory is moving out its wildfire emergency response phase, and will now shift focus toward recovery from an unprecedented and devastating season.

“We are satisfied that most N.W.T. evacuees, including many of the most vulnerable, have made their way home,” said Municipal and Community Affairs Minister Shane Thompson at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Thompson also said the territory will work with any residents who have lost property in the wildfires.

“Please note that we will not leave you behind,” he told those residents. 

The minister also said the territory will do an “after-action review,” to analyze the emergency response, including firefighting efforts and the community evacuations.

“We’re looking at everything, like from the very beginning of when we started this season to … the end of the season, about having resources we need. And again, it’s reaching out to all people of the Northwest Territories to have commentary on it,” Thompson said of the review.

“It’s going to be very in-depth.”

As of Tuesday, there were still 121 active wildfires in the territory and an evacuation order is still in place for the community of Enterprise.

That means Enterprise evacuees who are still down south will still have their hotel costs covered for now. Any other N.W.T. residents still down south but no longer subject to evacuation orders are on their own when it comes to covering their costs.

Evacuation orders have been lifted in recent days for Hay River, Kátł’odeeche First Nation and Fort Smith, and residents have been returning home.

Jay Boast, with the N.W.T.’s emergency management organization, said Tuesday the territory’s efforts to bring evacuees home in recent weeks have been “almost as monumental an undertaking as evacuating.”

Boast also said work has begun to get a thorough and accurate assessment of the wildfire damage. Asked how many homes have been lost, he said it’s still too soon to say. 

Dolphus Cadieux’s statue of a trapper stand among the rubble and ash that’s left of Enterprise, N.W.T. Officials said they’re still assessing the extent of damage and loss across the territory. (Juanita Taylor/CBC)

“We expect to have more confirmed numbers in the days ahead. And I think until the assessors have finished their work, we don’t want to create misinformation without confirmed numbers on the ground,” he said.  

‘We’re still fighting fires’

Firefighters are still busy in the South Slave region battling out-of-control fires and residents in most communities that evacuated are still under evacuation alerts — meaning people should be prepared in case they need to leave again on short notice.

Yellowknife also remains under an evacuation alert as of Tuesday.

The territory has so far budgeted $95.6 million — quadruple the original amount — for this fire season, according to Thompson. He said that money hasn’t all been spent, but it may be yet.

“We’re still fighting fires,” he said.

Fire information officer Mike Westwick also reiterated on Tuesday that even though firefighters have managed to reduce the risk to most communities, the season is not over. He said there were two new fires in the South Slave region on Monday. 

“We’re continuing to see some very difficult, very warm temperatures in the southern part of the territory, as well as some challenging winds at times,” he said.

A man in a yellow fire fighting jacket poses for a picture.
‘We won’t be living in a fire-free place until the snow falls,’ said Mike Westwick, N.W.T. fire information officer. (CBC News )

“So what that means is, again, even as we settle back into our lives here, we’re not living in a fire-free place, and we won’t be living in a fire-free place until the snow falls.”

Minister Thompson also took the opportunity on Tuesday to thank all the firefighters, emergency response workers, and others who have been busy dealing with the ongoing emergency. He also thanked N.W.T. residents for their patience in uncertain times.

“I’ve never once questioned the determination of our people and our partners. The reality is, our situation would have been much different without this incredible support,” he said.

“Unfortunately, there is no sugarcoating it. This record-setting fire season will cost us, both in terms of impact on our residents, and our bottom line.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *