“This is starting to feel like we’re cursed or something,” says Joanne Barnaby after witnessing the fires consume her community.
Barnaby is a resident of Hay River and lives right across the pond from the Kátł’odeeche First Nation (KFN). She watched the fire consume the reserve. On the night of the fire, she remembers, “Right across the highway from the reserve, you could see the flame, so it was really close, and everybody was certain that the fire was going to continue our way because it was moving so fast. But we got lucky, so far.”
Although her property wasn’t affected and her family wasn’t hurt, she worries for her friends still on the reserve. “I’m so concerned about the people on the reserve. It’s awful,” she says. “It’s frustrating for those of us that have left to see people just out of stubbornness stay behind, and they’re putting other lives at risk by doing that.”
No end in sight for Hay River, KFN
As Barnaby and other residents take shelter in Enterprise and other communities, the fire that has been ravaging the area since Sunday shows no signs of letting up. As of Wednesday morning, the fire was estimated by NWT Fire to be more than 1,700 hectares large. Hot and dry conditions are forecasted for the next few days, with no rain in sight, and easterly winds have been blowing the fire towards the communities throughout the day.
“There’s not a whole lot of relief in sight as yet in terms of conditions,” says NWT Fire Spokesperson Mike Westwick. “But folks on the ground here are working incredibly hard to take action and limit the spread of this fire.”
The fire has so far claimed about 15 buildings in KFN, while buildings in Hay River remain untouched. There have been no reported injuries or deaths.
As of this morning, more than 100 personnel, including 11 fire crews, were on the scene fighting the blaze.
The fire is still believed to be manmade, although Westwick could not elaborate on the exact cause.
“We’ve lost so many homes, and it’s just so saddening and heart-wrenching, and we don’t know, if we go back home if we even have anywhere to stay,” says Darlene Bugghins, a receptionist with the KFN band office. “There is no relief for us at some point: It’s like, we went through this last year, and now we’re going through it again.”
But this year, she says, the situation in the community is even worse.
Over 1,000 evacuees have registered so far at the Yellowknife Multiplex, says Lorie-Anne Danielson, Chief Operating Officer for the Yellowknife region of the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA).
Danielson has been on the ground since Sunday night leading the relief efforts in Yellowknife. “It’s a very different feeling here this year than it was from the flood last year.”
She notes a more sombre feeling, although residents are grateful.
Evacuees have been given shelter, food, clothing and all the basic amenities needed while away from home, but many worry about the state of their community. Danielson says residents have grown increasingly anxious and that engaging youth to participate in certain recreational programming has proven difficult.
NTHSSA is asking for donations in the form of gift cards, most importantly gas cards to ensure residents can travel home.
While most residents have fled, some have stayed behind: Philip Unger, the detachment commander for the Hay River RCMP, says that in canvassing about a third of the neighbourhood, he and his team found 27 households that had stayed behind. On Monday, he says, “a lot of our time was taken up by people who didn’t heed the evacuation order and keeping roadways clear so that protective services could water down the riverbanks.”
This story will continue to be updated as it unfolds.
With files from Eden Maury.