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‘It’s not easy being away’: Hay River welcomes back evacuees

After five weeks of being away from her home in Hay River, N.W.T., Mavis Klause says she’s ready to get back.

“It’s not easy being away,” she said.

“Overall, we’ve been treated well… But it’s just not home.”

Klause, who has lived in Hay River for 50 years, says the evacuation has been hard on her.   

But that’s finally coming to a close. Hay River residents were cleared to return the community starting on Saturday morning. Klause, who stayed in a hotel in Grande Prairie, Alta. won’t be heading back until Sunday and doesn’t expect to return to her home until Monday. 

This is the second time this year that Klause has left Hay River because of fires, after the community of roughly 4,000 experienced its first evacuation order of the summer back in May.

Fire crews working along highway

Frank McKay, N.W.T. Fire information officer, spoke on CBC’s The Weekender Saturday morning about what Hay River residents can expect while driving back.

“Initially, as they come into the community, they’re going to see a lot of the burn area,” he said, noting damage to infrastructure and downed power poles.

“I’m guessing that could cause a little bit of trauma, but with the essential workers coming back to the community, there’s going to be support services available.”

McKay says people who are driving up from the south should expect to see the burnt area when driving along Highway 1 and Highway 2 from Enterprise to Hay River.

He says crews are still working to address flare ups as they occur and drivers should be careful on the drive.

Picture of sign directing people to Hay River with burned trees in background.
Frank McKay, N.W.T. Fire information officer, says that Hay River residents should expect to see burnt areas when driving along when driving along Highway 1 and Highway 2 from Enterprise to Hay River. (Travis Burke/CBC)

“Maybe honk your horn, but don’t stop and take pictures because it might disrupt traffic flow, the safety of other highway drivers, and also the safety of our on the ground personnel,” he said.

McKay also warned the public to never venture into a burnt area.

Hay River mayor welcomes back residents

Kandis Jameson, Hay River’s mayor, said she feels relieved to finally welcome home residents. 

“It has been a long haul for all of us,” she said in an interview with CBC’s The Weekender

“The residents of this community are top shelf… It wasn’t good, but the people were amazing. I can’t stress that enough.”

smiling woman
Kandis Jameson, mayor of Hay River, says that residents can expect things in Hay River to be “fairly normal” when they return home. (Julie Plourde/Radio-Canada)

Although residents are now allowed to return to their homes, Jameson says to expect hotspots in the area and significant smoke due to the fires proximity to the town.

“I think that the smoke is going to be something that we’re going to have to live with,” she said.

The mayor says that people with health issues can expect the Hay River hospital to need more time before all is back to normal. 

However, Jameson she feels confident about allowing people to return, noting that Kátł’odeeche First Nation will also be allowing people back Sunday morning.

Jameson says Hay River’s grocery store shelves are stocked and businesses are prepared for people’s arrival. The mayor also says that services such as waste removal and water delivery are back in order, so the community can expect all will be “fairly normal.”

Jameson says that one day, residents will be able to wake up and feel as though things have gone back to normal in the community, and when that day comes, she hopes for a celebration.

“I can’t wait until we can do something that is fun… get together and talk and tell stories and laugh,” she said. “This community needs something like that.”

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