Pre-registration to fly home begins Tuesday for N.W.T.'s South Slave evacuees

An air tanker doing drops in the Hay River, N.W.T. area. (N.W.T. Fire - image credit)
An air tanker doing drops in the Hay River, N.W.T. area. (N.W.T. Fire - image credit)

Evacuees from N.W.T.'s South Slave region can pre-register for re-entry flights home starting Tuesday morning.

Evacuation orders are still in place for Hay River, K'átł'odeeche First Nation and Fort Smith, but officials said that re-entry flights will begin as soon as those orders are lifted.

Fort Smith is anticipating a return date of Sept. 18, and Hay River town council could decide Monday evening when to begin its re-entry plan.

Pre-registration for flights opens Tuesday morning at 8 a.m., online or by phone, and closes on Thursday at 8 p.m.

Meantime, crews were still battling the nearby wildfires amid difficult conditions on Monday. Warm weather and gusting winds out of the southwest are making things challenging, said fire information officer Mike Westwick.

Westwick said there was "severe" fire activity near Hay River on Monday, but the good news was that the fire defences in the Hay River corridor seemed to be holding.

Westwick also said a finger of the fire in K'átł'odeeche First Nation Reserve is growing significantly to the east, away from the reserve.

"That growth is concerning and there's certainly things that people care about down the road," he said.

Westwick said the fire closest to Fort Smith is not expected to grow.

"That means that risk has reduced to a degree for the community of Fort Smith, but we're far from out of the woods," he said.

Westwick said the unseasonably warm weather conditions were expected to continue in the coming days.

Below are live updates from Thursday's news conference from the CBC's Paul Tukker. Updates appear in descending order, from newest to oldest. 

4:50 p.m. – News conference ends.

4:48 p.m.  Asked whether officials know how many people have returned to Yellowknife by now, Jeffrey Edison of the Department of Infrastructure says that while they've counted vehicles returning, they haven't counted the number of people in each vehicles.

4:41 p.m. – Asked about the weather forecast for the days ahead, Westwick says the unseasonably warm conditions are expected to continue.

4:39 p.m. – Asked whether any evacuees might have been left in Calgary or Edmonton after the last repatriation flights on the weekend, Jamie Fulford, the repatriation task force lead, said there may be people with extenuating circumstances that meant they missed the flights. He said capacity was not an issue on the flights, and efforts were made to contact all evacuees to ensure they knew about the flights.

4:33 p.m. – Boast says "pathfinders" will guide people who lost their homes through the disaster assistance program, and make sure they understand the process. Blair Porter, the SAO for Enterprise says adjusters have gone in to look at damaged properties in his community, starting today. Porter says different options are being considered for residents for the winter ahead, including work camp-style accommodations.

4:25 p.m. – Asked about re-entry to Hay River, the town's senior administrative officer Glenn Smith says council will be meeting this evening to discuss the current situation and when plans might go ahead for re-entry.

4:22 p.m. – Boast is asked what the options are for accommodations for North Slave evacuees who haven't returned yet. He says people outside of Calgary and Edmonton still have accommodations, and repatriation is still underway for those people.

4:15 p.m. – Asked about obstetrics services now available in Yellowknife, Kimberly Riles, CEO of the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority, says another health service level update will be issued in the coming days. For now, only emergency obstetric services available.

Dr. Claudia Kraft, Territorial Medical Director, says the advice for expectant people with uncomplicated births, who were at 33 weeks and above on Sept. 6, is that they should remain out of the territory until instructed to return.

4:08 p.m. – Fire information officer Mike Westwick says it was another day of severe fire activity near Hay River, but the defences in the Hay River corridor have been holding and no new structures have been lost. However, there is fire growth that is concerning.

Westwick says the Fort Smith fire is not likely to spread. Risk in that area has been reduced, but he says they're "not out of the woods yet."

He says similar weather conditions to today are expected in the region in the coming days.

4:04 p.m. – Jay Boast, with the Emergency Management Organization, speaks first. He says over the weekend, 2,876 vehicles crossed the Deh Cho bridge northbound. More than 1,500 evacuees were flown in by government charter. Preregistration for re-entry flights for evacuees still waiting to return to South Slave communities will open Tuesday at 8 a.m., and will close Thursday at 8 p.m.

4:01 p.m. – News conference getting underway.