Tour begins in wildfire-ravaged Enterprise
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was set to visit Hay River, N.W.T., Wednesday to meet with local community leaders and visit sites impacted by recent wildfires.
The official itinerary features a visit to local sites affected by the fires, as well as a briefing session on first responders’ efforts.
The visit started with a visit to fire-stricken Enterprise, about 40 kilometres south of Hay River. A fast-moving wildfire in August tore through the hamlet of about 120, destroying nearly all of the community’s structures.
Burnt trees, scorched homes and melted vehicles remain throughout the community located along a highway north of the Alberta boundary.
Around 20 people have returned, but many remain elsewhere in the territory and other parts of Canada after their homes were destroyed.
The territory saw nearly 70 per cent of its population displaced during the fire season, including a three-week evacuation order that forced around 20,000 people to flee Yellowknife.
Wildfires have burned a record area across the territory since flaring up in the spring. There are still 95 fires ongoing throughout the Northwest Territories as of Wednesday, with over 416,000 hectares affected this year.
People in Hay River and the nearby Kátł’odeeche First Nation were forced to leave because of fire in May and again in August. Houses and the band office were damaged in Kátł’odeeche.
The later fire, fuelled by raging winds, tore through Enterprise, destroying 90 per cent of the structures in the community, officials said.
A handful of people from the hamlet have trickled back in to see the burnt-out bones of their homes. A few families whose houses were destroyed are staying in recreational vehicles parked outside the community gas station as they await information on whether they will get a temporary house or can start clearing the debris off their land.
They all recount stories of fleeing the wall of smoke that quickly moved in on their community and the devastation they felt when they were able to return, finding the charred remains of the lives they had built.
Amy Mercredi, 80-year-old resident and grandmother, recently returned to the community and said she cried when she saw the reality that the home she’d lived in for decades was gone. She recalled having to flee with her two young grandsons and learning once they had arrived in northern Alberta that their home burned.
Mercredi said one grandson asked about his Lego, his most prized possession that had been left behind. The grandmother held back tears as she kept driving, she said.
Mercredi said she came back to make sure her grandsons could continue school in nearby Hay River but they don’t have a permanent place to stay.
Many people who visit their burned homes say hotel rooms are not a long-term solution. The local hotel was also destroyed by the fire so most are staying in Hay River, where accommodations are scant.
Blair Porter, a senior administrative officer with Enterprise, said they want to make sure that people can return to the town. They are trying to find solutions for those who lost their homes.
“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 said.
But, he said, they will need co-operation from other levels of government to get it done.
Related stories from around the North:
Norway: Smoke from Canadian wildfires forecast to reach Norway, The Associated Press
Russia: New NOAA report finds vast Siberian wildfires linked to Arctic warming, The Associated Press
Sweden: High risk of wildfires in many parts of Sweden, including North, Radio Sweden
United States: Wildfires in Anchorage? Climate change sparks disaster fears, The Associated Press