In the aftermath of the unprecedented wildfire season that has displaced almost 70 percent of the Northwest Territories’ population, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived today to witness the devastation firsthand.
Wildfires Wreak Havoc
Since the wildfires began in the spring, they’ve scorched an unprecedented area across the region. As of Tuesday, 95 active fires continued to burn. A notably rapid wildfire in August devastated the hamlet of Enterprise, located about 40 kilometres south of Hay River. This resulted in nearly all of the community’s homes and structures being destroyed, leaving behind a trail of burnt trees, melted vehicles, and scorched homes.
Hay River and the nearby Kátł’odeeche First Nation have faced evacuations due to the fires in May and again in August. Homes and the band office in Kátł’odeeche suffered significant damage.
Returning to Rubble
Of the approximately 100 residents originally from the hamlet of Enterprise, only around 20 have braved a return. They’ve been greeted with harrowing scenes of the ruins of their homes and community. A few families have resorted to staying in recreational vehicles parked near the community gas station, awaiting news about temporary housing and permissions to clear their plots.
Many recount the traumatizing stories of their escape from the engulfing smoke. One such account comes from octogenarian grandmother Amy Mercredi. On her return to the community, she was met with the devastating sight of her long-time home turned to ashes. Mercredi described the heartbreaking journey she undertook with her two young grandchildren to northern Alberta. Along the way, one of the children enquired about his left-behind Lego set, his most cherished possession, a question that brought tears to the grandmother’s eyes. Despite the circumstances, Mercredi remains resolute, ensuring her grandchildren can continue their schooling in Hay River. However, like many others, they’re without a permanent residence.
Many of those who lost their homes are grappling with the challenge of finding long-term accommodation. To add to the strain, the local hotel, which could have been a temporary solution, was also consumed by the fires. Most displaced residents now seek shelter in Hay River, where options are limited.
Blair Porter, a senior administrative officer with Enterprise, emphasized the community’s desire for its residents to return. “One of the things we don’t want to have happen is that people just get fed up … throw their hands up in the air and say they are not coming back,” Porter stated. Yet, he acknowledges that significant cooperation from various government levels is vital to rebuild and resettle the affected community.
Government Intervention Expected
As Prime Minister Trudeau meets local leaders in Hay River and tours affected sites, there’s an air of anticipation for robust federal intervention to expedite the recovery process. It remains to be seen what measures will be taken, but the Prime Minister’s visit has certainly cast a spotlight on the dire situation in the Northwest Territories.