Residents of Fort Good Hope, N.W.T. return home after 3-week evacuation

In Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., residents returned home on Saturday after a three-week long wildfire evacuation.

Flights bringing evacuees home from Délı̨nę and Norman Wells started at around midday, and are expected to continue until 8 p.m. on Saturday, according to an update from the N.W.T. government.

About 170 evacuees will be returning home from Norman Wells, along with 20 evacuees from Délı̨nę.

Community members who evacuated to a fish camp about 15 kilometres from the community arrived home on Thursday, according to Fort Good Hope Chief Collin Pierrot.

Two family members reunite after a plane bringing home evacuees from Délı̨nę, N.W.T. arrives in Fort Good Hope on Saturday afternoon.
Two family members reunite after a plane bringing home evacuees from Délı̨nę, N.W.T. arrives in Fort Good Hope on Saturday afternoon. (Brenda Pierrot)

The first plane of evacuees touched down in the community at about 1 p.m., Pierrot told CBC. It was carrying evacuees from Délı̨nę.

Pierrot and his partner Brenda were at the airport to welcome them. Brenda described it as a "reunion."

"They had a few elders in there," she said, "their grandchildren running to them and hugging them, kissing them."

Fort Good Hope was placed on evacuation order because of a threatening wildfire on June 15. That evacuation order has now officially lifted.

The fire, VQ001, is still active, and was last measured at 8,226 hectares, but is no longer considered a major threat to the community, N.W.T. Fire said in an update on Saturday.

'Relief' and 'excitement' for evacuees

Fort Good Hope evacuee Tommy Kakfwi said he was feeling a mix of "relief" and "excitement" on Saturday afternoon, as he waited in line in Norman Wells for his flight home.

He said the evacuation has been a difficult, unfamiliar experience for residents of small, tight-knit Fort Good Hope.

"Now we forgot all those negative feelings from the past," he said.

"We're going back home where everything is waiting for you... you go to your own bed, your own house, you flick your own channels. It's exciting."

Danger in burn areas

N.W.T. Fire has warned residents that they may still see the fire flare-ups when they return home. But while the fire remains right at the edge of the community, there is very little forest fuel remaining that would allow for the fire to spread, N.W.T. Fire said.

Pierrot told CBC that going forward, the local fire brigade will continue to monitor the fire with help from a territorial fire crew.

He also said the community's council is asking residents to stay out of areas where the fire has burned, as they are still dangerous.

N.W.T. Fire said that trees in these areas may fall down very easily. There are also holes burned deep into the ground, some still very hot, where it's possible someone walking on the surface could fall in.

"The fire has changed the land you live on," a spokesperson wrote in the latest wildfire update. "It may be difficult to see. Take care of your mental health and each other as you return to the community – and remember that the forest will grow back."