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Hay River, N.W.T., mayor says 7 to 10 days 'reasonable' estimate for return

Fire crews working near Hay River, N.W.T. (N.W.T. Fire - image credit)
Fire crews working near Hay River, N.W.T. (N.W.T. Fire - image credit)

Officials in Hay River, N.W.T., have approved a re-entry plan for residents, once the current evacuation order is lifted, and Mayor Kandis Jameson says seven to 10 days is a "reasonable" estimate for when residents could start heading home.

Jameson, along with town senior administrative officer Glenn Smith and fire information officer Mike Westwick held a news conference on Friday afternoon.

The town's re-entry plan was posted online earlier Friday.

It describes a staged re-entry for the town of about 3,500, beginning with people who work in essential services such as health care, pharmacy, public works, RCMP, utilities, fuel services, grocers and others.

The general public would be able to return about four days after the essential workers.

People who live in areas where there has been fire damage, loss of services, or the risk is still elevated may have to wait even longer, depending on the situation.

Residents with special health needs may also have to wait until all local health services have resumed.

Jameson warned that coming home will be difficult for many people, particularly those in areas where there has been fire damage, and homes have been lost.

"To drive through into this community is going to be very tough on a lot of people," she said.

She described her own experience visiting the nearby community of Enterprise, which has been all but destroyed by fire.

"The devastation is really unreal," she said. "People really need to be aware to prepare yourself when you come home, cause it's the whole landscape of our community."

Hay River is still threatened by fire, which is now just one kilometre west of the airport. There is also no secured perimeter to the fire.

Firefighters are also bracing for a tough weekend, with near-record temperatures expected along with "unfavourable" winds, and no rain.

"It will be a test of our defences and progress towards securing the fire's edge closest to town. There is potential for fire growth over this period," reads the latest update from fire officials.

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

4:30 p.m. – End of the news conference.

4:28 p.m. – Jameson says flights will be available for evacuees who are out of the territory, but it'll be up to the territorial government to provide details as it will be organizing those. The town will ensure people are informed, she said.

4:25 p.m. – Jameson says she believes a week to 10 days is a "reasonable" estimate for when re-entry might happen. "We all want people back as soon as possible," she says.

4:23 p.m. – Asked how Kátł'odeeche First Nation and Town of Hay River are coordinating return plans, Smith says there are different risks for both communities, so they're each proceeding with their own plans, but also co-ordinating their efforts.

4:19 p.m. – When asked about when the re-entry plan will go into effect, Smith says no dates are set. The general public will return home four days after essential workers, but when that is, depends in part on how this weekend goes.

4:15 p.m.  – Asked about what some people might be coming home to, Jameson says her heart breaks for people, some of whom have lost homes and livelihoods. She advises residents to "prepare yourself" when they come home, because the community looks very different.

4:13 p.m. Fire information officer Mike Westwick says a recent break in weather has helped firefighters make "extraordinary progress" on the fire, creating the fire break. But he again says it be a difficult weekend.

4:07 p.m. – SAO Glenn Smith says it will be a staged re-entry. Essential services will be granted four days to bring staff into community, do inspections and prepare. General public with no special requirements will follow that.

4:05 p.m. – Mayor Kandis Jameson says town council has passed the re-entry plan that was developed in partnership with several groups. Notes that this weekend will be challenging for firefighters.