Fishing camp near Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., hosts 100 evacuees amid wildfire

Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., is under a wildfire evacuation order and while the majority of the community has fled to Norman Wells, many are elsewhere.

About 118 evacuees stayed in town and are contributing to the firefighting effort, a dozen are in Délı̨nę and more than 100 are at a Sahtu Dene fishing camp on the Mackenzie River. Roughly 500 people live in Fort Good Hope.

John Tobac, a land ranger who's helping manage the camp downstream from Fort Good Hope, said that before the evacuation, people at the camp had just started to settle in for the summer. But when the evacuation order came Saturday on short notice , they set to work preparing the area to receive a rapid influx of evacuees.

"We've got workers around here that just take care of the camp and people are being fed and taken care of," he said.

Although the set-up and arrival was chaotic, Tobac said people are settling in well.

"People that are not equipped for life on the land — they don't have tents and foamies and, I think, bedding and that — so we supply that."

With so many mouths to feed, getting food into camp has been top of mind, with volunteers transporting groceries into the camp by the boatload. In addition, four or five fish nets have been set out to supply food.

Residents at the fish camp downriver from Fort Good Hope prepare country food to feed the more than 100 people who've taken shelter there amid a wildfire evacuation order in their home community.
Residents at the fish camp downriver from Fort Good Hope prepare country food to feed residents who've taken shelter there amid a wildfire evacuation order in their home community. (John Tobac)

Various dietary preferences are also being accommodated and traditional foods such as fish, beaver and moose are being served which elders in particular have been requesting, Tobac said.

Some campers have had to go into Fort Good Hope during the day for work, Tobac said, but the number of people going back and forth is being limited.

Despite the fire burning nearby, the wind direction has been in favour of the campers.

"The air is still good around here," Tobac said.

Back-to-back meal prep

Back in town, the wildfire fight is taking many forms.

Brenda T'Selieie Pierrot is coordinating a team of 6 volunteers who are cooking community meals for those out and about protecting the community. Feeding over 100 people means the kitchen is going non-stop — as soon as one meal is done, it's time to start prepping the next, she said.

"You have to make do with what you have," Pierrot said.

"We didn't have access to the [grocery] store and stuff like that, but luckily the manager for the Co-Op came back yesterday so we managed to pick up as much supplies as we could."

That Co-Op run was also responsible for getting groceries down to the fish camp, she said. But future groceries for both kitchens will need to be flown in from Norman Wells, she added.

Crisis unites community

Pierrot and her husband, who's the community's chief, were in Yellowknife when the fire broke out. Instead of staying away, the pair flew back to town to help in the community.

"It's in my blood, it's in my nature. I've always been here for my community, and it was just not the time to abandon that," she said.

While some are fighting the fires, there are also municipal workers keeping things running, and crews patrolling the community and observing the fires.

"We have to be extra safe. We keep putting it out there for people to be safe because the nurses and the staff and everybody left and so did the RCMP," Pierrot said.

Although difficult, Pierrot said the evacuation is uniting the community.

"We've always been close together, even when we have a few hiccups. But, you know, when it comes to situations like this, those differences and whatever we have is gone and it doesn't come back because it makes us look at life and, you know, how short it could be," she said.