HAY RIVER, N.W.T. — It will likely be next week before wildfire evacuees from Hay River, N.W.T., learn when they can return home.
While re-entry for the territorial capital of Yellowknife began Wednesday, thousands of people from Hay River, on the south shore of Great Slave Lake, and Fort Smith, on the Alberta boundary, haven't been allowed back.
Hay River council approved its re-entry plan Friday, but a return date won't be determined until after the weekend, which is forecast to be hot and dry.
A notice on the Town of Hay River Facebook page said the evacuation order would only be lifted when town council, in consultation with the community's emergency coordinator, wildfire incident commander and other authorities, determine it is safe to return.
There are several caveats for re-entry, since the wildfire is expected to remain active throughout the fall and unknown weather conditions can affect its severity.
Workers in essential services will be the first allowed back to support continued management of the wildfire and to help reopen the community.
Residents who live in areas that haven't been affected by the fire will be the next group allowed in, while those who live in areas that have seen fire damage and have suffered a loss of essential utilities will have to wait longer.
Residents with special health needs — including those in long-term care and assisted living, or who need treatment for chronic illness — will have to stay away until community health services have fully resumed.
Firefighting staff and equipment will continue to operate, while monitoring and controlling the risk until the fire is under control.
The town also warned a further evacuation notice could be issued during re-entry if there is an active fire in the area.
An update from the town said drone flights have been providing information about hot spots and crews are working to make sure they are out.
Fire has reached many populated areas in Hay River and was recently about 500 metres away from the hospital.
An evacuation was ordered Aug. 13 for the town of 3,500 people.
Yellowknife's 20,000 residents were ordered out three days later. Fire came close, but did not enter the city.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2023.
— By Bill Graveland in Calgary.
The Canadian Press