The morning of the evacuation, Enterprise Mayor Michael St. Amour was enjoying the sunlight on the ball diamond where the community was hosting 600 evacuees from Fort Smith.
They watched forestry truck after forestry truck race by on the main drag in quick succession, not one stopping to tell them how fast the fire was approaching.
It wasn’t until they saw the 200-to-300-ft. flames licking trees nearby that they realized they had to get out and now. No one had called to tell them how serious the threat had become; the hamlet was seemingly left on its own. Within the course of three hours, a wall of fire driven by 80 km/h winds forced its way into town pushing everyone out.
The GNWT claimed that the safety of firefighters was the reason why no government personnel went to help. Problem was no one had bothered to tell residents to leave either. They felt totally abandoned when lives were at stake there too.
No one had time to do anything except jump in their vehicles and flee.
At the NWT/Alberta border a few hours later, a couple from Enterprise decided to head back and see if they could save their home. No emergency vehicles were there to stop them, so heading back is exactly what they did.
No one was in town to put out hot spots and smoldering embers when they arrived. Instead, the couple broke into the fire hall, fired up the truck and started a rescue mission of their own, a move which likely saved every structure in town from being wiped out.
Finally, a few firefighters headed to Hay River from Alberta noticed the frantic activities of the Enterprise couple and pulled in to help. Thanks to the efforts of this small but determined group, seven homes and a few businesses were saved. More than 90 per cent of the community was wiped out.
And now, in a story echoing the classic David and Goliath one of old, the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) is threatening to dismantle the hamlet’s governing power and take over. Why? The hamlet’s council is guilty of generosity and indiscriminate caring which doesn’t fit with government regulations.
(Editor’s note: the department confirmed in an e-mail to NNSL Media on Oct. 6 that it was not planning on taking over day-to-day operations of the community.)
St. Amour said his council made the decision to award emergency funding from its own pot of extra money to all residents to help them get back on their feet. They didn’t want their people waiting for insurance or other pockets of money that could take months to come through. With school starting and kids needing supplies, they wanted to help their people with something now. Elders were left with nothing and they too needed a few comforts to help them deal with the trauma of losing everything.
St. Amour said his council will not back down. It will stand behind its people and work to meet immediate needs with physical and emotional support.
The council is not willing to abandon its residents as the government did, which is why it finds itself in a fight for its life against two government departments, MACA and ECE. Thus, the David and Goliath comparison.
The GNWT was not there for Enterprise when the inferno reared its furious head and roared through this hamlet, and it is not there now when compassionate help is needed most. Now the council is looking to the federal government hoping for relief there.
This community has suffered and been ignored enough. It is time for all levels of government to step up with kindness and generosity, which is crucial in the healing process.
It is likely safe to say to the people of Enterprise that we are there for you, too. The North would not be the same without you and we ache every time we drive past what is left of your tiny hamlet.
You will not be forgotten. Like David in the real story, we are rooting for you.
—Nancy Vail is a longtime Yellowknifer concerned with social justice.