Many residents of Hay River and the K’atl’odeeche First Nation are en route to Yellowknife as they flee a ferocious wildfire burning dangerously close to the South Slave communities.

K’atl’odeeche Chief April Martel, after guiding the safe evacuation of people on the reserve hours earlier, wrote on her Facebook page after 2 a.m., “We can hear explosions on KFN.” And then an hour later, she added, “The dogs are swimming across the river to town. OMG my heart.”

Northland Utilities has shut down power to the community. In Hay River, the town says the propane system is turned off as a precaution.

The GNWT stated that the wildfire is believed to have jumped the river on the western side of Hay River, and noted that community members had reported flames reaching Vale Island, near the graveyard.

Firefighters were forced to retreat and the size of the fire wasn’t known in the chaotic early hours of Monday morning.

“Damage to structures is highly likely. The extent of damage will not be able to be definitively assessed immediately,” the GNWT sated. “Wildfire teams will assess the situation and determine strategies to protect the communities as best as is possible — with resident and firefighter safety as priorities.”

Extreme conditions are expected to persist despite a possibility of rain in the next 48 hours.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation and there are many details we do not yet know. We are working to get those answers as soon as possible. Additional updates will be issued (Monday),” the territorial government stated.

The Town of Hay River informed all residents to leave the community as of 11 p.m. Sunday. Revealing how quickly the out-of-control wildfire was moving, the municipality had posted online just an hour and 15 minutes earlier that the fire was being monitored closely but there was no alert in place for the town, although the town encouraged residents to review emegency preparedness literature.

Hay River has a population of close to 3,500 people while K’atl’odeeche is home to almost 300 people.

Although Yellowknife is the host community, the Town of Hay River also noted that close to 40 camping spots were available in Kakisa as well as Escarpment Creek and Fort Providence.

Gas stations stayed open in Enterprise and Fort Providence to accommodate emergency travel.

An update on the Town of Hay River’s Facebook page posted at around 9:40 a.m. told residents that it was still unsafe to return and the road into town from the Enterprise junction was still being blocked off.

Fire crews are still hard at work, the post read, and the Hay River Fire Department responded to a few flare-ups overnight. But there is still no impact to any buildings or homes within the town. Hay River RCMP are monitoring the community.

In the territorial capital, city councillor Tom McLennan started a Google doc where residents who have space in their homes to welcome evacuees can sign up to help out:

Derek Neary

Derek Neary has been reporting on developments in the North for 18 years. When he's not writing for Nunavut News, he's working on Northern News Services' special publications such as Opportunities North,...

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