The federal government on Friday laid out what it is doing for evacuees of NWT wildfires in Yellowknife and the southern part of the territory.
One form of support is $13 million for the territory to purchase firefighting equipment, like aircraft, vehicles, dust suppressants and dispatch. Funding is also being provided for helicopters and skimmers, and there’s money for training for aircraft attack and mitigation response.
“This funding is flowing to the Northwest Territories right now,” said Julie Dabrusin, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Natural Resources and minister of Environment and Climate Change.
Others participating in the Friday morning federal update were Minister of Emergency Preparedness Harjit Sajjan, Minister of Defence Bill Blair, Minister of Citizen Services Terry Beech, Minister of Transport Pablo Rodriguez.
“This has been an incredibly challenging week for Canadians,” said Sajjan. “The stress of leaving your home and not knowing if it will be there when you return is a reality for thousands of people today.”
He said Canadian Forces are on the ground providing firefighting, evacuation support and logistical support. He added the federal government is providing financial support to Indigenous governments. Canadian Coast Guard personnel are also helping support the effort in the NWT. He said residents outside of the NWT can phone (844) 259-1793 or 811 in territory if they have questions about the evacuations.
Noting Canada “is experiencing the worst forest fire season on record,” Blair said half of the NWT population has now been displaced, including all 20,000 residents of Yellowknife.
“Our top priority is to keep people safe,” he said. “Since Saturday, Canadian Forces members have been helping first responders.”
He said 120 soldiers were on the ground fighting the fire and 30 aviators were covering the skies across the NWT. Hercules, Globemaster and Polaris aircraft are moving residents. Thursday night, a C-130 Hercules carried 79 people with mobility issues to Calgary.
The air force also evacuated 150 people from Hay River and Fort Smith. Blair added that military aircraft would be in Yellowknife for “as long as it takes” to complete the evacuation. He also noted that Canadian Rangers were helping with registration at Yellowknife airport. Pets are being allowed to board flights too.
“We will do whatever it takes,” he said.
Rodriguez said Air Canada is adding more flights to accommodate the higher traffic and that price gouging of airfares, gasoline or other essential supplies would not be tolerated.
Beech said Service Canada has active national and regional support centres in operation. Mobile units have been placed in Fort Simpson and in northern Alberta to help evacuees apply for benefits, insurance or employment insurance for those who may have lost their job in the evacuation. No record of employment will be needed to apply for EI if you are an evacuee. He suggested people set up a MyServiceCanada account to access all services immediately. He also suggested evacuees set up direct deposit to get benefits sooner. Anyone with questions can call 1 877 631 2657 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. — he said if you call outside those hours to leave a message and someone should respond the next morning.
“Our entire organization stands ready to assist anyone affected by the wildfires,” said Beech.
Dabrusin said the federal government is doing its best to respond to the wildfire catastrophe being experienced across the NWT and in British Columbia, as well as working to mitigate climate change, which is a major contributor to the blazes.
Blair said the federal government was working with provinces to ensure enough space is available for evacuees across the country.
Yellowknife issued an evacuation order Aug. 16 after it was determined a nearby wildfire could potentially reach the city by the weekend. Residents have been given until noon on Aug. 18 to leave the city.
Free flights were flown out of Yellowknife to Calgary throughout the day to take people unable to evacuate by road, and bus services have also been made available. Hundreds of people lined up for the trip, filling planes to capacity and many more had to wait another day. People who are immunocompromised, have mobility issues or have other chronic health conditions were given priority.
Registration to fly out resumed at 6 a.m. Aug. 18. Flight schedules are being developed for the entire day and into Saturday, Aug. 19. Young said the Saturday flights were dependent on weather and safety.
Evacuees travelling by road are being asked to arrange their own accommodations where possible. Carpooling is encouraged to both reduce traffic and to assist those without a vehicle.
All evacuees are asked to register at a reception centre upon reaching their destination. Evacuees taken by air to Calgary will be transported to the local reception centre. The other reception centres for Yellowknife evacuees are as follows:
-Westin Calgary Airport, 671 Aero Drive NE
-Fox Creek Hall, 200 1st Street, Fox Creek
-Parkland Motels II, 10710 101 Ave, Lac la Biche – Health services are limited in this community.
-G.H. Dawe Community Centre, 6175 67 St, Red Deer
-Polar Palace Arena, 4429 52 Ave, Valleyview
-Allen and Jean Millar Centre, 58 Sunset Blvd, Whitecourt
-5001 44 Ave, Fort Vermillion
-Edmonton EXPO Centre, Hall C, 7515 118 Ave NW
Evacuees from the South Slave, including Hay River, Enterprise, Fort Smith and K’atl’odeeche First Nation are asked to travel to one of the following locations:
-Baytex Energy Centre, 9810 73 Ave, Peace River
-High Level Arena, 10101 105 Ave, High Level
Do not travel to Leduc, Fort McMurray, St. Albert or Grande Prairie, as those reception centres are at full capacity. Anyone still in Hay River who needed to be flown out on Aug. 17 was flown to Lloydminster.
Kakisa residents are asked to inform the band office when leaving or to register at the reception centre in Fort Simpson. Jean Marie River residents have been evacuated to Fort Simpson.
People evacuating the NWT are also being offered free camping in all Province of Alberta maintained campgrounds. To do so, first register as an evacuee at a reception centre. Then phone the Alberta Parks Contact Centre at 1-877-537-2757 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to be matched to a campsite for up to 10 consecutive days.