Hay River evacuation order lifts but fire burns near hospital

The evacuation order for Hay River and the surrounding communities was lifted over the weekend even as a wildfire burns about 500 metres from the hospital.

Residents have been told by the Government of the Northwest Territories they will “need to adapt to living with fire.”

“You will see smoke and you will see flare-ups and significant fire activity,” an update on Sunday reads. “The work done to secure the perimeter has significantly reduced the chance of these flare-ups causing problems, and crews remain active in the area to address issues.”

According to the update, the fire “reached” within 500 metres of the hospital and breached other areas including the 2 Seasons area, Pointe La Roche and came within 10 metres of some parts of Highway 2, the only major roadway into the community.

Weather continues to play a factor in firefighting efforts, as warm sunny temperatures are expected this week. The relative humidity is quite low for the area, which has been experiencing severe drought this summer.

“With this weather, quite aggressive fire behaviour and activity will ensue during the peak burning day,” the update reads.Fire perimeter near Hay River shows active fire lines near the town on Sept. 17, 2023. (Government of the Northwest Territories)

Residents are being warned that plumes of smoke and increased fire activity are likely on the east side of the river.

“It is not a risk-free or fire-free return,” the update reads.

According to officials, the fire is expected to burn until the snow falls. Many trees and root systems have been damaged by the fire and residents that return are urged to not go into burned areas.

“It is best to steer clear of burned forest areas if you can,” the update warns. “If you are near burned forest area, be on alert for the potential for falling trees, keep two treelengths distance between you and the nearest tree, and do not disturb soil nearby.”

Officials are also asking people to not use drones around firefighting areas saying flying the drones forces crews to ground firefighting efforts.

“There’s a lot of work to be done from the air still in Hay River, the Reserve, along Highway 5, and along Highway 1 from just past the NWT/Alberta border through to Kakisa,” the update says. “Don’t let your photography trip pause that critical work.”

More than 165 personnel remain in the town, operating eight helicopters and 31 pieces of heavy equipment.

The Canadian Armed Forces left the area earlier this month after groups decided wildfires could be taken care of by the territorial resources.

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