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‘It’s not easy being away’: Hay River welcomes back evacuees

After five weeks away from her home in Hay River, NWT, Mavis Close says she is ready to return.

“It’s not easy being away,” he said.

“Overall, we’ve been treated well… But it’s just not at home.”

Clause, who has lived in High River for 50 years, said the evacuation was difficult for her.

But it’s finally coming to an end. The residents of Hay River were cleared from Saturday morning to return to the community. Clausen, who stayed at the Grand Prairie Hotel in Altai. will not be back until Sunday and does not expect to return to his home until Monday.

This is the second time this year that Clause has been forced out of the High River because of fires, after the community of roughly 4,000 people experienced the summer’s first evacuation order back in May.

Firefighters are working along the road

Frank McKay, NWT Fire Information Officer, spoke on CBC The Weekender: Saturday morning about what Hay River residents can expect when they return.

“At first, when they go into the community, they’re going to see a lot of burned area,” he said, noting infrastructure damage and downed power poles.

“I imagine it may cause a bit of trauma, but once key workers return to the community, support services will be available.”

McKay said people driving up from the south should expect to see the burned area along Highway 1 and Highway 2 from Enterprise to High River.

He says crews are still working to contain the blaze and motorists should use caution when driving.

A picture of a sign directing people to the Hay River with burnt trees in the background.
Frank McKay, NWT Fire Information Officer, said Hay River residents should expect to see burned areas when traveling along Highway 1 and Highway 2 from Enterprise to Hay River. (Travis Burke/CBC)

“Honk maybe, but don’t stop and take a picture because it can disrupt traffic flow, the safety of other drivers on the highway, as well as the safety of our ground crew,” he said.

McKay also warned the public to never enter a burned area.

The Mayor of Hay River welcomes the residents

Candice Jameson, High River’s mayor, said she was relieved to finally welcome residents home.

“It’s been a long time for all of us,” he told CBC The Weekender:.

“The people in this community are top shelf… It wasn’t great, but the people were amazing. I can’t stress it enough.”

smiling woman
High River Mayor Candice Jameson says residents can expect things to be “pretty normal” in High River when they return home. (Julie Plourde/Radio-Canada)

Although residents are now allowed to return to their homes, Jameson said to expect hot spots in the area and significant smoke from fires near the city.

“I think smoke is going to be something we’re going to have to live with,” he said.

The mayor says people with health problems can expect Hay River Hospital to take longer to get things back to normal.

However, Jameson is confident of allowing people to return, noting that the Katl’odeche First Nation will also allow people to return on Sunday morning.

Hay River grocery shelves are stocked and businesses are ready for people to arrive, Jameson said. The mayor also says that services such as garbage collection and water supply are back in order, so the community can expect things to be “pretty normal.”

Jameson says one day residents will be able to wake up and feel like things are back to normal in the community, and when that day comes, he hopes for a celebration.

“I can’t wait until we can do something that’s fun … get together and talk and tell stories and laugh,” she said. “This community needs something like this.”

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