‘It is not safe to return’ RCMP tells Yellowknife residents as evacuation order extended

Evacuation order has been extended into September.

The state of emergency in the Northwest Territories is being extended until Sept. 11 says Premier Caroline Cochrane.

Cochrane, speaking to reporters in Edmonton, said she understands the frustration evacuees are feeling but she continues to ask for their patience.

“I want to go home, too. We all want to go home. It’s hard being evacuated,” said Cochrane.

On Wednesday, she stood along side federal ministers Randy Boissonnault and Dan Vandal, Alberta Forestry Minister Todd Loewen and Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi following a visit to an Edmonton evacuation centre.

state of emergency Q&A
Different levels of government present in Edmonton for a Q&A about the extended state of emergency. From left: Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, Premier Caroline Cochrane, Minister Dan Vandal, Minister Randy Boissonnault, and Alberta Forestry Minister Todd Loewen talk to a communications person. Photo: Danielle Paradis/APTN

“What I’m telling people is as soon as it’s safe to go home, as soon as the fire’s in control, then it will take about four or five days at least,” she said.

The territorial government declared a state of emergency on Aug. 15, giving communities, including the capital city, Yellowknife, a few days to relocate.

Read more:

     The impact of wildfires on evacuees: ‘You could taste the smoke’

Cochrane said her government has to make sure the power and gas, the airports as well as grocery stores and gas stations are functioning before people return.

“We’re all evacuated and people are tired. They want to be home, but it’s really important that people not try to go home until they’re called, until it’s time, because not only do you put yourself at risk, you’re actually putting our first responders at risk.”

She also reminded people that there is a one time $750 payment available to people who evacuated by car.

Not safe to return

“About 35 per cent of the population of Yellowknife is now in Alberta,” said Mayor Sohi.

Officials said earlier this week that the fire burning outside Yellowknife was being held, but it was still not safe to return.

Nearly 70 per cent of the territory’s population, including 20,000 Yellowknifers, are seeking refuge in Alberta and beyond until the danger has subsided.

Edmonton is now saying there is “limited space” for future evacuees.

School year approaches

As the school year approaches, parents and those going to post-secondary may be wondering about the plan.

Cochrane said that her government is “working closely with the educational authorities in the Northwest Territories and communities that are not evacuated will be starting school right away.

“Communities that are evacuated will be having to wait a few more weeks.”

Cochrane said that they were “really hopeful” that evacuees will be able to return in a few weeks but could not answer questions on whether the territorial government had worked with provinces like Alberta to consider temporary enrollment in schools.

Police warn the evacuation order is still in effect

The Royal Canadian Mounted police sent out a press release saying they have received information that some people are planning to go back, regardless of the evacuation order.

According to the press release the information they have received is that a group of people are planning to re-enter in the territory in as many as 50 vehicles from Alberta and that “they will not stop for the checkpoints” said the press release.

The RCMP are discouraging residents from attempting to return before the evacuation order is lifted.

“The evacuation orders and territory-wide state of emergency remain in effect. It is not safe to return to any of the communities under evacuation order,” said Cpl. Matt Halstead, N.W.T. RCMP Media Relations in the press release.

“Trying to return now puts you at risk.”

The police said because of the wildfires, there is poor visibility and a lack of services to assist in case of emergency.

“Anyone who engages in activity that risks the safety of Department of Infrastructure staff or RCMP officers at the checkpoints, may face prosecution,” said Halstead.


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