After over a month of being away from home, Hay River, N.W.T. residents got the green light to return home starting Saturday morning.
The announcement came Friday evening in a post on Facebook.
The town of nearly 4,000 has been evacuated since Aug. 13, when a fast-moving wildfire threatened the community, as well as nearby Kátł'odeeche First Nation and Enterprise, N.W.T., a community that was directly hit by the fire.
The fire also remains extremely close to the community, within 500 metres of the hospital and 10 metres of Highway 2. However, fire officials say enough containment work has been done that the community can safely return.
This is Hay River's second evacuation this year, with the first coming in May from a wildfire that burned homes and structures in Kátł'odeeche.
Wildfire burning near Hay River, N.W.T., earlier this month. Residents of Hay River are returning Saturday morning after a month-long evacuation. (NWT Fire)
It's also the third evacuation in two years, as the entire community was forced to flee from devastating flooding last year.
Paradise Gardens, a community south of Hay River, was one of the areas most affected by the flooding, and then again affected by the fires. Officials said at a recent news conference that they suspected four properties in Paradise Gardens were either damaged or lost.
As residents return to Hay River, they can expect to have a full range of amenities, as businesses have been gearing up for people to come back.
Kátł'odeeche First Nation says its residents can start returning on Sunday at 9 a.m.
As people return home, CBC News will be providing live updates that you can follow along here. Updates appear in descending order, from newest to oldest. Refresh your browser for the latest updates.
2:19 p.m. - Frank McKay, N.W.T. Fire information officer, said in a news release that Hay River residents should expect to see increased fire activity to the east of the river.
"Including large plumes of smoke and this will continue into Monday," he writes.
McKay says there is protection in place and increased fire activity doesn't make the return unsafe.
"Containment lines and fire breaks continue to hold throughout the Hay River Corridor and K'átł'odeeche
areas with no fire perimeter breaches."
1:16 p.m. - Jay Boast, a spokesperson for the N.W.T. Emergency Management Organization, says that there will be four planes picking up residents on Sunday.
The planes will be going to Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray, High Level, Edmonton and Calgary.
Boast wrote in an email that all pre-registered evacuees will be called and given individual instructions.
He says people should be patient and wait for the calls, but anyone who wants more information can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
11:36 a.m. - CBC's Travis Burke says the Gateway Gas and Convenience in Enterprise is open.
The hamlet of Enterprise was directly hit by the wildfire in mid-August, leaving widespread damage.
The gas station was an important one, as it was one of the few along the N.W.T.'s southern highways.
John Leskiw, store operator of Gateway Gas and Convenience located in Enterprise, N.W.T. on Sept. 16, 2023. (Travis Burke/CBC)
11:23 a.m. - Burke is just outside Enterprise, he describes the weather as clear and sunny.
He says he isn't seeing a lot of traffic other than transport and fuel trucks.
Burke will be in Hay River covering the return for CBC North.
11:12 a.m. - Fire officials are warning people returning to Hay River that they will see a lot of burned areas as well as some damaged buildings and power poles.
Frank McKay, N.W.T. fire information officer, says people may see some flare-ups as well.
He says people should stay out of burnt areas because they are unstable.
10:59 a.m. - The N.W.T. highway conditions map was updated to show Highway 2 open from the Highway 1 junction up to Hay River.
10:24 a.m. - The chief of the Kátł'odeeche First Nation reserve says people should bring drinking water with them when they return home on Sunday.
April Martel, Kátł'odeeche's chief, says people should not drink from their taps when they get home.
"We're actually testing our water samples right now and our air quality due to the fact that the particles might have gone into some of the systems. So we're doing that right now to make sure that, we might put a boil water advisory in," she said.
Residents of Kátł'odeeche are allowed to return Sunday at 9 a.m.
9:44 a.m. - Residents were allowed to return home as of 9 a.m. CBC News hasn't heard from anyone who has arrived yet.
After Yellowknife's evacuation, many residents returned to fruit flies and rotting food in their fridges. That's likely to be the same in Hay River, albeit likely significantly worse, considering the length of the evacuation.
9:37 a.m. - Hay River's mayor Kandis Jameson welcomed residents back in a post on Facebook.
She warned that it will take time for things to feel normal again.
"Let's all pull together to support our friends and neighbours that have lost their livelihoods as well as those businesses that have been closed for over a month," she wrote.
"It's a good opportunity to go out and reconnect at coffee shops, restaurants or your favourite stores."
9:36 a.m. - The territorial government tweeted that Highway 2, the road that leads to Hay River, is open.
"Welcome home and please drive carefully as you return to Hay River."
9:12 a.m. - Hay River residents are posting on Facebook about ashy conditions in High Level, Alta.
9:08 a.m. - According to the N.W.T. Highways map there are a few closures, including the Highway 3 junction near Kakisa. If that road is still closed, it should have little effect on people returning, as Hay River evacuees went south.
The roads from Alberta up until the Hay River access road are open, according to the highways map. Although the access road says it's closed on the website, no closure announcement has been made by the town or territorial government.
If you're from Hay River and have arrived home, feel free to send photos and updates to email@example.com