The mayor of Hay River says the Canadian Coast Guard is on standby in the southern N.W.T. hub in case the wildfire situation worsens and further emergency evacuations are needed.
Mayor Kandis Jameson held a news conference on Saturday to give an update on the fire threatening her community. She shared the pain of leaving the North behind when boarding an emergency flight to Alberta on Friday.
"I felt like I was abandoning the people that were working the hardest for us and that was a really tough one to come to terms with," Jameson, speaking from Edmonton, said of the firefighters who remain behind to combat the fire.
"To look out the window and see that fire roaring towards your town was something I will never forget."
According to the latest update from N.W.T. fire officials on Saturday afternoon, the fire is now one kilometre west of the Hay River airport, 1.5 kilometres west of the town centre and seven kilometres south of homes in the K'átł'odeeche First Nation reserve. The more active threat prompted the territory on Friday to order all remaining residents, including essential workers, to leave the town.
"The last thing they do is remove the essential workers. If that doesn't tell people how serious a situation we're in I'm not sure what will," Jameson said.
Hay River, N.W.T. mayor Mayor Kandis Jameson was among those who took an emergency flight out of the community Friday due to the worsening wildfire threat. (JTF North/X)
There are no flights out of Hay River planned for Saturday, according to Jameson. She said an estimated 100 civilians not associated with firefighting efforts remain in town.
"I know that, should things go really sideways, the Coast Guard [is] out in the harbour," the mayor said. "They are anchored out there should we need their support. That gives us that second layer should we have to pull our team out or other residents."
The CCGS Eckaloo is in Hay River to help, according to a social media post from the Coast Guard on Saturday. Hay River is the vessel's home port, according to the ship's profile.
Evacuees sent to Edmonton, then Calgary
Jameson was among those who boarded an evacuation flight to Edmonton on Friday night, along with her dogs, according to a post on the town's page.
"Of course the planes can only hold so much, so it was one backpack and [a] dog on a leash kind of deal. And wearing the same clothes I had on yesterday ... But there's a lot of people in a lot worse situations than I am."
Sixty-one people, mostly civilians, went out on one flight Friday while a second flight carried more than 100 military personnel and other residents.
Since emergency shelters in Edmonton are full, evacuees were then sent to Calgary, Jameson said.
Water treatment plant spared as of early Saturday
In a Saturday morning update, an N.W.T. fire official said the wildfire likely burned structures west of the town but spared the town itself.
The fire had closed much of the 10 kilometres between it and the community of about 3,500 people after a "blow-up event" on Friday sent a wall of flame heading up the highway toward Hay River.
As of Saturday morning, N.W.T. Fire said the water treatment plant — a source of major concern for Jameson — had been spared.
"We want to be extremely clear: no frontline firefighters left when essential support workers were evacuated," N.W.T. Fire said.
Over 200 firefighting personnel remain near Hay River.
"Generally, [Saturday's] conditions should improve visibility, limit fire growth in the direction of Hay River and the [reserve], allow aircraft to fly missions throughout the day and get crews on the line to get good work done," according to N.W.T. Fire's Saturday afternoon update.
There will not be a territorial wildfire news conference on the larger wildfire situation on Saturday evening, officials confirmed.
Jameson's news conference comes the same day N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Edmonton to discuss the need for additional and better northern infrastructure to make the territory more resilient against future major weather events.
The territorial government has provided the following links for residents: