Hay River fire: Canada Day parade goes ahead

Hay River fire - June 30, 2015
Hay River fire on June 30, 2015. Photo: Sandra Lester
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The Town of Hay River says Wednesday’s Canada Day parade will go ahead after earlier fears that poor air quality would cause its cancellation.

The parade will begin at 10:30am. Floats should line up outside North Country Inn from 9:30am.

Air quality alerts have been issued in both Hay River and Yellowknife, but the Hay River fire department said the threat from a fire south of the town had receded.

Environment Canada and the territorial government said a large area of smoke from wildfires “may cause potentially high health risk conditions” in Yellowknife, Hay River and Enterprise. Kakisa and Fort Providence are also affected.

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“The smoke is expected to persist over the next couple of days as winds remain light and little to no precipitation is expected to flush out the smoke and haze,” the bulletin continued.

Residents of the rural Paradise Valley and Patterson Road areas, south of Hay River, were issued a voluntary evacuation advisory on Monday night.

By Tuesday evening, the fire department said there was no longer an “immediate threat” to residences in the corridor south of Hay River, or any other area of the community.

Read: Voluntary evacuation south of Hay River

Wind conditions drove a wildfire now spanning some 20,000 hectares to a distance of two kilometres from the river. However, conditions on Tuesday were more favourable, with moisture in the air and a change of wind direction helping to hold the fire at bay.

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In an update on Tuesday, territorial firefighters said aircraft are “still unable to assess or suppress the fire due to heavy smoke in the area”.

A Facebook update to the NWT Fire page added: “The plan is to cut control lines for a burn out operation to keep the fire from getting west of the river. Fire operations today are limited to values-at-risk protection in the Paradise Gardens and Patterson subdivision.”

Evacuation plans being prepared

Some residents have chosen to stay in those areas, with the wildfire yet to cross the river. Others have found temporary accommodation with acquaintances in the town, and the road remains open.

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The town of Hay River itself is not affected.

Mayor Andrew Cassidy told Moose FM plans were being developed should the town be threatened in days to come.

“It’s absolutely a step that’s being taken,” he said. “There isn’t one, particular plan – the fire is moving in different directions, so we have to come up with various scenarios and responses.

“We will be evolving our plans. The reality is if we were to say ‘this is the plan’ but then the weather changes or the fire changes, that plan will change as well.”

Cassidy said no residents affected by the voluntary evacuation advisory had shown interest in taking up accommodation at a local school, so no temporary shelter currently exists.

However, anyone who does choose to evacuate is being asked to sign in at the fire hall, so the town can keep track of who remains behind.

“People have the freedom to come and go,” he said. “It’s not a forced evacuation, so people can check on their place or grab a few more things. There are no restrictions on access.”

Highway 5, between Fort Smith and Hay River, was set to reopen on Tuesday afternoon for a “brief period”. The Department of Transportation said the road could close again with little notice if condition worsen. (Updates here.)

Cassidy, meanwhile, asked residents to keep calm and follow only official advisories from the town.

“There are official communications that are current and accurate,” he said. “My advice is to not panic, and don’t go on any unsubstantiated rumours on Facebook.

“If you are planning on packing or preparing [for a potential evacuation] then basically pack for a week, like you’re going on vacation almost, and have your personal belongings – anything of significance – set aside.

“Be ready to go, but at the end of the day we’re not facing any imminent danger at this exact moment in time and we’ll be providing plenty of notice if things change.”

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