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Hay River now open again to essential workers, despite work remaining on community guard


Essential workers were allowed to return to Hay River, N.W.T., Wednesday morning, marking the start of a phased re-entry for the entire community. 

"Through additional backburn activity completed today, containment efforts have reduced the fire risk for the community to an acceptable limit to activate Phase 1 of the Hay River Community Re-Entry Plan," the town announced Tuesday evening

"Those who enter the town of Hay River should note that there is still an active fire that is being actioned by fire crews. Please respect the efforts of those who will need access to all areas of the municipality. There will also be limited health and other services."

The town of 3,500 – as well as others in the Great Slave Lake area near the Alberta-N.W.T. boundary – was evacuated on Aug. 13 as smoke from encroaching wildfire made the afternoon sky "darker than midnight," as one N.W.T. resident recalled. 

As of Tuesday evening, the fire was nearly 477,000 hectares, or 4,770 square kilometres, in size. Officials were expecting the next mapping to show it had grown significantly on Tuesday because of brisk winds and "very aggressive fire behaviour." 

Until Hay River's perimeter is fully secured, the community remains at risk. 

On Wednesday, crews were continuing the work to secure the K'atl'odeeche First Nation and Hay River corridor. Fire officials said this part of the perimeter would prevent westward fire growth in the case of east winds in the future. 

As well, heavy machinery crews were finishing the last kilometres of a 35-kilometre tightline from Great Slave Lake to the Highway 1 junction west of Hay River and tightlining both fingers of the fire to prevent further growth into K'atl'odeeche. 

Frontline and direct attack firefighters are following the equipment to extinguish anything hot or burning. The plan is to first build a perimeter that is 30 metres wide. 

More than 200 personnel are working in the area, equipped with eight helicopters, 33 pieces of heavy equipment and airtankers. 

All other Hay River residents may be able to return as soon as Sept. 17.

Hay River resident April Glaicar says she's looking forward to walking along the beach and getting back to a routine -- and to helping the community clean up and get back onto its feet.

"I think, as a whole, we'll be busy just trying to support and help each other," said Glaicar, who's been staying in the Edmonton area waiting word for the last five weeks of when she and others can return home.

The town's council will meet on Friday to assess the risk level and whether it is safe to continue with the plan. 

“Fingers crossed, and the way it's looking, we're bringing people home sooner rather than later," Mayor Kandis Jameson told CTV News Edmonton on Wednesday, warning residents the fire is still active and has left a trail of destruction in and around the town.

The damage caused in Hay River and its neighbouring communities has not yet been quantified, but Jameson said last week that "some areas that are really...a mess."

"There's no other way to put it," she said. "Prepare yourself. It doesn't look anything like it used to, that's what I know.”

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jessica Robb, and The Canadian Press Top Stories

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