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Yellowknife mayor says city too unsafe for residents to return

Assurances of public safety and essential service operations must be in place first: Rebecca Alty
Wildfire smoke fills the air over Yellowknife on Thursday, August 17, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Braden

The mayor of Yellowknife says it’s not safe for residents to go home to the territorial capital, but notes city officials are working on a return plan as a fire continues to burn about 15 kilometres away.

Most of the residents in the city of 20,000 evacuated by air or road late last week to cities and towns as far south as Calgary and as far east as Winnipeg.

“Of course, the question that everyone wants to know is when can we come home?” Rebecca Alty told reporters at a briefing Tuesday evening.

The return plan, she said, has two parts.

“One is fire safety and two is ensuring essential services are back up and operational,” said Alty.

“We started our planning on Friday and we’ll continue working on it until we can welcome residents back. Unfortunately, for now, it’s not safe to return so residents should remain where they are.”

Alty noted she took a flight Tuesday over the fire breaks along Yellowknife’s municipal boundaries and parts of the fire.

“It’s one thing to see the fire area and the defensive work on maps, but it’s another thing to see it for real.”

Alty said the fire is still classified as a threat to the city and crews are in the process of evaluating how much work it would take to eliminate that threat.

She said that will require a thorough ground assessment that may take days to complete.

A similar message came from Hay River, where a fire is burning about eight kilometres away.

“We are in good hands as we face this difficult week ahead,” said Mayor Kandis Jameson.

Flames remained about eight kilometres from Hay River, on the south end of Great Slave Lake, and fire officials have said they expect hotter and drier conditions and shifting winds.

Jameson said she’s heard from many residents of the community.

“We know that you’ve had your livelihoods interrupted,” she said. “It is difficult to hear that you may not be able to come home for some time.

“Work is being done to make your return smooth and quick when it is safe to do so.”

Another fire is burning about four kilometres from Fort Smith.

Deputy Mayor Jay McDonald said crews are also working to protect the community.

“Our first priority as a mayor and council is about getting through this as a community together and ensuring that all of our people can come home to Fort Smith as soon as possible,” he said.

“At this time, it’s not safe for our citizens to return to Fort Smith and we really want to encourage those folks that are able to leave to please vacate the community.

“Please, be safe. And to the citizens of Fort Smith, please be patient.”

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