After the Town of Hay River and K’atl’odeeche First Nation (KFN) were evacuated, many residents headed to the Multiplex, which was designated at the evacuation centre. Many evacuees appeared to be devastated. No crying could be heard but people were frequently seen hugging and comforting one another.
Yellowknifer interviewed multiple evacuees at the Multiplex on Monday, one of which was Harley Tambour from KFN. He said that he did not see it with his own eyes but he heard that his home was destroyed by the flames.
“It hurt my heart to know that everything I put into everything I have around there bought and paid for — now it’s burnt down,” he said.
The window he had to evacuate out of was very short and he said that he didn’t have time to put on socks before he had to leave his home.
“The flames scared us and made me cry,” he said. “Good thing I had my truck and my kids.”
Brian Fabian, another evacuee, said he had no place to go.
He said that he has property on K’atl’odeeche First Nation but believes that there is nothing left of his home.
He describes the scale of the fire he saw in the community.
“You look at the high rise, you know how tall that building is? And the flames went right over the building,” he said.
He described helicopters in the area looking like small toys in comparison to the smoke and flames. He said they were dropping tiny buckets of water over the flames that appeared to have little impact.
Fabian said that he drove overnight, heading first to Enterprise then to Yellowknife.
He was glad that all his family were safe in Yellowknife but his dog was left behind.
“Poor dog, my best friend,” he said sorrowfully. “I never thought that anything like this would ever happen to us.”
Ang Peters evacuated with her husband and daughter, Bradley Peters and Alice Peters, just as they were about to go to sleep, she said.
“Yesterday (Sunday) there was a fire across the river on the reserve and people were being evacuated.
“I don’t remember where we read it but it said that the town wasn’t in danger of it spreading there so we didn’t pack bags and we definitely should have,” she said.
She said she was notified of the evacuation at 11 p.m. on Sunday. The family quickly packed their bags and drove overnight to Yellowknife on only two hours of sleep between Sunday morning and Monday afternoon, she said.
Vehicles coming from Enterprise were only driving at 40 or 50 km/h when she was travelling because so many other people were evacuating, she added, which extended the travel time from there to about seven hours.
She said that all she knows about about the state of her home was coming from the news out of the town.
She thanked and the people in Yellowknife who have supported the people evacuating from Hay River.
“It’s made it a lot easier in a really tough time.”
Jocko Villebrun said he saw the fire and checked the direction of the wind.
“That fire is coming this way,” he recalled saying.
He recalled hearing an explosion which he believes was a big fuel tank exploding outdoors. He told his girlfriend and mom that they should get ready to go. He said that the drive to Enterprise usually only takes 25 minutes but ended up taking more than an hour because of traffic. He said there were about 50 vehicles in front of them and another 50 behind them.
He believes his girlfriend’s home where he lives is still intact but he wasn’t certain.
Tambour, Fabian, and Villebrun all mentioned the difficulty the community faced when Hay River was flooded last year. It seemed that each of them felt that it was too soon for another disaster.
The NWT Health and Social Services Authority is overseeing operations at the Multiplex and will do so for as long as the need is there, according to David Maguire, the authority’s communications manager. Residents were being asked to register at the reception centre in the front lobby as soon as they arrived, even if they weren’t planning on staying there.
Cots, food service, and onsite first aid and mental health supports were made available for anyone who needed it.