The City of Yellowknife and a nearby First Nation said Friday that wildfire evacuees may be able to return as soon as Sept. 6.
Residents of the Northwest Territories capital and members of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation are set to be allowed to return home starting at noon that day, “barring any increase in wildfire activity and risk along Highway 1 or near Yellowknife between now and then.”
“Residents must all be prepared for a reduction in services and businesses that may not be open, or may only be able to provide limited services,” the city and First Nation said in a news release.
Shane Thompson, the territory’s minister of municipal and community affairs, said in a statement that although the government is looking forward to welcoming residents home, people are asked to stay where they are until the evacuation order is lifted on Wednesday.
“This will help make re-entry safer and more organized,” Thompson said. “Please do not travel back toward the N.W.T.-Alberta border until Wednesday, Sept. 6. No supports are available in northern Alberta for residents considering moving north to wait for the order to be lifted.”
He added that while a return date being established is good news for Yellowknifers and residents of Dettah and Ndilo, people from the communities of Hay River, Fort Smith, Kakisa, K’atlodeeche First Nation and Enterprise remain displaced.
“We continue actively fighting the fires outside of your communities to get you home as soon as it is safe,” Thompson said. “Evacuees from these South Slave communities are asked to remain where they are rather than travel to Yellowknife.”
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The lifting of the evacuation order for the capital city marks the final phase in a re-entry plan that is currently seeing essential personnel for critical services return.
An increased fire risk along Highway 1 had delayed the return of some essential workers, but officials said most are set be back on Monday and Tuesday as part of efforts to re-establish basic services.
The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority issued a public notice on Friday, advising Yellowknife residents to expect limited services upon re-entry as the system ramps up.
It said almost all health services in Yellowknife are suspended except for basic emergency department care, adding that the restart will have an initial focus on life-sustaining services.
The organization said some services are expected to be available at the Stanton Territorial Hospital when the Yellowknife evacuation order ends, pending confirmation of appropriate staffing levels.
Intensive care will not be available initially upon re-entry, it said.
“If you become critically ill, you will likely require a medevac out of territory,” it said.
It also said obstetric services would be limited in the first one to two weeks and anyone 33 weeks or more into pregnancy will be contacted directly about their care.
Chemotherapy, dialysis and IV therapy patients have been told to stay where they are to receive those services and not return.
Those in need of urgent surgery and pediatric patients may need medevac for treatment.
The evacuation order for Yellowknife and the nearby First Nation communities of Ndilo and Dettah was issued on Aug. 16.
About 70 per cent of the territory’s population has been out of their homes for two weeks, and for residents of communities near the Alberta boundary it has been longer.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Sept. 1, 2023.