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Wildfire evacuates Hay River, nearby reserve in Northwest Territories

K’atl’oodeeche First Nation, Hay River, N.W.T., order evacuations as wildfire spreads
Fire and smoke from a wildfire are shown in Hay River, Northwest Territories. A First Nation reserve and nearby town in the southern Northwest Territories have been evacuated as a wildfire spreads in the area. THE CANADIAN PRESS/James Cardinal Jr.

A First Nation reserve and nearby town in the southern Northwest Territories have been evacuated as a wildfire spreads in the area.

K’atl’odeeche First Nation ordered an evacuation Sunday afternoon advising residents to register at the evacuation centre in nearby Hay River.

The Town of Hay River then ordered an evacuation at 11 p.m. Sunday.

Residents of both communities have been advised to register at the Hay River Community Centre if they need help leaving, or the Yellowknife Multiplex, located about 480 kilometres away.

Michael St. Amour, mayor of the neighbouring community of Enterprise, said there was a two-hour wait at the gas station as hundreds of people passed through the hamlet.

“We tried to make them as comfortable as possible and give them the direction to go to Yellowknife,” he said.

St. Amour said Enterprise has opened its community hall to evacuees and was serving breakfast Monday morning. He said about 300 people are still in the community hoping to get back to their homes.

In Fort Providence, about 140 kilometres from Enterprise on the north side of the Mackenzie River, the service centre has stayed open to support evacuees.

Linda Croft, manager of the Big River Service Centre, said there has been a non-stop stream of people at the gas bar, store and restaurant since around 1:30 a.m.

“A lot of people from the reserve were very traumatized,” she said.

Croft said they plan to remain open around the clock for the foreseeable future. She added the local campground opened Sunday evening for people leaving Hay River and K’atl’odeeche First Nation.

“We’re here. Fort Providence is always here,” she said.

The Town of Hay River said in a statement Monday that it was unsafe for residents to return due to predicted high winds and direction changes, but no buildings or homes in the town had been affected. It said the road into the town is being blocked, no amenities or health services are available there and police are actively monitoring the community.

N.W.T. Fire said Monday approximately 15 buildings had been damaged on the reserve while the Hay River Fire Department had extinguished spot fires that jumped the river. It said six fire crews were working in the area with another six on the way.

K’atl’odeeche First Nation said on its Facebook page Monday that Northland Utilities had shut down all power on the reserve and that all history and archives had been saved from the Yamozha Kue Society building.

The N.W.T. Emergency Management Organization said evacuees are encouraged to stay with family and friends. The territorial government has set up an evacuation centre at the Yellowknife Multiplex where basic necessities, including meals, are being provided. Campsites are also being made available for people with recreational vehicles.

Residents have set up a Facebook page to offer assistance to evacuees from pet care and transportation to places to stay.

Roughly 3,500 residents from Hay River and the K’atl’odeeche First Nation were ordered to leave last May as the area experienced its worst flooding on record.

In October, the Northwest Territories government said it estimated flooding caused more than $174 million in damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure.

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