As Yellowknifers return, thousands of other N.W.T residents still waiting to come home

Firefighters board a plane in Yellowknife on Wednesday evening.  (Joanne Stassen/CBC - image credit)
Firefighters board a plane in Yellowknife on Wednesday evening. (Joanne Stassen/CBC - image credit)

As thousands of Yellowknife residents return home, many evacuees from other parts of the Northwest Territories still don't know when they will be able to come back — or if they will have a home to return to.

During a fire update news conference Thursday night, N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane noted there are still thousands of people who are living away from home.

"For some evacuees there's going to be no home to return to… we're going to be here for you."

Fire officials expect a difficult weekend for firefighters protecting communities in the South Slave region, with high temperatures and challenging winds.

At Thursday's news conference, Environment and Climate Change Minister Shane Thompson asked South Slave residents to lean on each other and help one another get through this difficult time.

Residents from Hay River are expected to find out tomorrow afternoon when they will be able to return home. Hay River Mayor Kandis Jameson said the return dates will be set at a meeting on Monday.

On Thursday, the City of Yellowknife announced on Facebook that several flights and evacuees were coming back to the city that day. They've also asked for volunteers to pick up people from the airport as they are expecting a lot of people to return.

Shelters for underhoused individuals also began preparations and are expecting to welcome clients starting Thursday.

Most essential workers started returning home Monday and Tuesday.

Below are live updates from Thursday's news conference from the CBC's Richard Gleeson. Updates appear in descending order, from newest to oldest. Refresh your browser for the latest updates.

7:10 p.m. – That's the end of the news conference. Thank you for reading. The next news conference will be on Monday.

7:07 p.m. – Premier Cochrane says we should celebrate the return of some evacuees, but keep in mind that thousands more are still living away from home. "For some evacuees there's going to be no home to return to … we're going to be here for you." Repeats her plea from the federal government for funding and resources to close the gap between the north and the south.

7:01 p.m. – Is the federal funding announced today ($28.5 million over five years for firefighting efforts) as much as the government was hoping to get? Minister Thompson said yes, that's the number they agreed on.

6:58 p.m. – Has the Town of Hay River been in touch with all residents who have evacuated? Mayor Jameson says they have not got to that stage yet. Jameson says they asked organizations that provide essential services for a list of employees. Will be following much the same approach to repatriation taken by Yellowknife.

6:56 p.m. – Premier Caroline Cochrane says, having worked with under-housed people for many years before politics, she reached out to all of the people on her friend list she could and talked to former colleagues to spread the message to register for flights.

6:51 p.m. – What have you done to get the most vulnerable home? Tordiff says they have to work with Alberta and Manitoba agencies.

"We're not in a position where we can go out and move people around," he said.

Tordiff says when there are people who are more difficult to track, they have to work with [provincial] hosts and emergency management agencies. "We reach out through those organizations and try to engage through front line people providing services on the ground."

6:45 p.m. —  Mike Westwick, N.W.T. fire information officer, provides an update on threats to Hay River and Fort Smith. He says outside of both communities there are volatile fuels and firefighters are focusing on not allowing those to flare up. He says the main effort is to prevent "perimeter advancement" of fires toward both communities.

"We're in much better shape than we were a few weeks ago," he said.

6:37 p.m. — How are homeless people from Yellowknife being accounted for during the evacuation? Robert Tordiff, assistant deputy minister with the territory's Department of Executive and Indigenous Affairs, says the government is working with host agencies in Alberta, such as mental health, shelters and addiction services. Also using information through income support and other agencies to reach out to them.

Boast, says they must respect free choice of everyone, including underhoused. If there are folks who do not want to come back, they do not have to.

6:35 p.m.  A GNWT official says a total of 7,000 vehicles evacuated from Yellowknife area. 

6:27 p.m. — Claudiane Samson from Radio-Canada asks if there are any psychological supports, particularly for children, available for evacuees. Kim Riles, CEO of the N.W.T Health and Social Services Authority says steps have been taken to provide additional supports for people returning to the Yellowknife area, and additional support will be available for those returning to the South Slave when they get back.

6:25 p.m. — Boast says accommodations for evacuees from South Slave have been extended to Sept. 22.

6:22 p.m. — Media questions begin.

6:21 p.m. — Boast urges people from Yellowknife area who are planning to fly back to pre-register as soon as possible. He says the deadline to get a free flight back is Friday.

6:20 p.m. — Jay Boast, Emergency Management Organization emergency information officer says that 268 Yellowknife residents flew home on repatriation flights yesterday and another 676 vehicles crossed the Deh Cho Bridge northbound.

6:18 p.m.— Fort Smith deputy mayor Jay Macdonald says mayor and council's focus remains on the safety of the community and the first responders involved. He says everything is being done to fight the fire, and hopes that people will be able to return sooner rather than later.

6:15 p.m. Hay River Mayor Kandis Jameson says a re-entry plan will be made public tomorrow afternoon and dates will be set at a meeting on Monday.

6:14 p.m. Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty says now that the city is moving back into regular operations, this will be her last appearance at a fire update news conference. Says review of emergency response will be discussed at first council meeting back.

6:12 p.m — "We are definitely not out of the woods yet, so to speak," said Chief Betsina. Says he hopes all remaining evacuees return safely.

6:10 p.m. — Ernest Betsina, newly-elected chief of Dettah, says he was just sworn in on Monday. "What a time to start."

6:09 p.m— Thompson notes that there are still people from the South Slave region who remain evacuated. Urges them to lean on each other and help one another get through this difficult time.

6:05 p.m— Environment and Climate Change Minister Shane Thompson opens the press conference, reading from a prepared statement, thanks people for following the evacuation order. Urges others from Ndilo, Dettah, Yellowknife and Ingraham Trail who haven't returned, to make their way back as soon as possible.