Thousands of Canadian wildfire evacuees allowed to go home
After a mandatory evacuation order lasting three weeks, numerous residents in Canada’s Northwest Territories are finally returning to their homes.
In mid-August, over 20,000 individuals were compelled to evacuate Yellowknife when a wildfire encroached to within 15 kilometers (approximately 9 miles) of the city’s outskirts.
Early Wednesday afternoon, the evacuation directive was rescinded, thanks to the effective efforts of firefighters in containing the blaze.
The announcement was met with relief by those eagerly awaiting their return.
Commercial flights to the city have resumed, and the highway checkpoint outside Yellowknife has been lifted.
A “Welcome Home” sign was erected along the Yellowknife Highway near Behchoko, a First Nations community, to greet evacuees as they returned on Wednesday.
However, Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty cautioned those coming back that the city would appear somewhat altered.
In a video shared on social media, she explained that firebreaks had been established in various parts of Yellowknife to safeguard the city against wildfires this season and in the future.
Ms Alty also said shops and city services would take time to resume operations.
People have been advised they should be ready to be self-reliant for 72 hours.
Thousands began leaving Yellowknife on 16 August either by land or by air, including some on military evacuation flights.
Many sought refuge in cities and towns in nearby Alberta and British Columbia, either staying at hotels, with friends and family, or camping.
Angela Canning, a Yellowknife resident, told the Canadian Press that she and others cheered when they saw the “Welcome Home” sign on their drive back.
Ms. Canning had camped for 17 days in Fort Providence, a town three hours southwest of Yellowknife, as she heeded the evacuation orders.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever want to go camping again,” she said.
At one point, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said a handful of people had planned to defy the evacuation order and had organized a convoy to drive through highway checkpoints into the Northwest Territories.
Police discouraged residents from going through with their plan, and the territory’s Premier Caroline Cochrane urged evacuees to stay put.
“We’re all evacuated and people are tired, they want to be home,” Ms Cochrane said at the time. “But it’s really important that people not try to go home until they’re called.”
The fire outside of Yellowknife continues to burn, but firefighters have been able to control its hot spots.
Meanwhile, fires near the towns of Fort Smith and Hay River continue to rage, and residents there are still unable to return home.
A territory-wide state of emergency has been extended until 11 September.
As of Wednesday, there were 235 wildfires in the Northwest Territories, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. More than 1,000 wildfires were burning across Canada.
It is the country’s worst wildfire season on record in terms of area burned as the region experiences drier and hotter weather than normal.