The mayor of Fort Smith, NWT, says the city will meet on Sept. 11 to discuss a possible return plan, but that will depend on fire activity over the weekend.
Fred Daniels said the city council will consider recommendations from on-site firefighters based on weekend fire activity, which is expected to be high.
Adam McNabb, director of protective services at Fort Smith, said that while the threat to Fort Smith has decreased, the surrounding areas remain at risk. High fire danger is expected in the coming days.
Daniels said once the evacuation order is lifted, more essential workers will have to return before the general population can.
The development comes just days after Fort Smith welcomed back critical workers, including RCMP, energy corporation workers, grocers and health workers.
Daniels said he has had discussions with the NWT government, Wood Buffalo National Park officials and the Alberta government about the return process.
Daniels said the earliest return flights would be arranged for Tuesday, adding that he wanted to start the return process a week earlier but would have to wait until the situation was safer.
“Maybe I’m a little pushy or something,” he said.
“I understand there are some things we need to do before we get to that point … But I’m a mayor who has no patience.”
Daniels thanked those on the scene who kept the community safe.
“You did a great job and we owe you a lot,” he said.
In an update on Facebook around noon Saturday, Wood Buffalo National Park said there was a “reduced threat to Fort Smith due to the hard work of firefighters,” but that it was still not safe for people to return.
“Until basic services are restored, the community cannot support reunification.”
The post said Interstate 5, the only road in and out of Fort Smith, was closed Friday due to safety concerns and limited visibility. By: NWT highway mapthe road remained closed on Saturday evening.
Financial pressure on evacuees
Daniels said he recognizes how difficult the evacuation is for many residents, financially, and said he doesn’t think enough help is being provided by the territorial government.
“They were going to give us money, then they clawed again,” he said.
Daniels said he and other leaders have sent a letter to the prime minister asking for more financial help.
Fort Smith has been evacuated since August 12 due to a wildfire. It was the first of a number of communities to be evacuated that week. The evacuees were first sent to Hay River. However, 24 hours later, that community was also evacuated and told to go south.
Fort Smith, Hay River and other South Slave County evacuees have spread across Alberta, including many around the High Level and Grand Prairie regions, which have reached their maximum capacity for evacuees.
Daniels was in Fort McMurray, Alta., where he was hospitalized for a blood problem. He said he had ignored the issue for a while, but the evacuation suddenly forced him to deal with it.
“I didn’t want to get out of here in the first place, so I got out of here, and it’s probably a good thing that I came because my health failed here,” he said.
He thanked the hospital staff for helping him recover.
“I should have taken more care of myself, but I love my career, and I’ve put my career before my health a lot of times,” Daniels said.
Lobbying for an all-season road out of Fort Smith
Daniels said another problem that emerged during the evacuation was the lack of roads outside the area.
He said he has been in contact with the federal government about building an all-season road south of the community, a topic he said has been discussed before.
“You only have one way out, right?” he said.
“Having another road in our section would mean an area, Yellowknife, and everybody could use that road for evacuation or tourism.”
Fort Smith is on the Alberta border, but the drive south into the province is only 25 kilometers.
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