A state of emergency in the Northwest Territories has been extended until Sept. 11 and its premier says she understands the frustration of those forced from their homes.
“I want to go home, too. We all want to go home. It’s hard being evacuated,” Premier Caroline Cochrane said Wednesday following a visit to an Edmonton evacuation centre alongside federal ministers Randy Boissonnault and Dan Vandal, Alberta Forestry Minister Todd Loewen and Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi.
“We can’t control fire. We can’t control the wind and temperature, so we’ve got high temperatures still in the North,” said Cochrane.
“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.”
The territorial government declared the state of emergency on Aug. 15 as wildfires threatened several communities, including the capital, Yellowknife.
The move was meant to allow the government to marshal the resources it needed to protect the health and safety of residents during an unprecedented wildfire season.
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.
Cochrane said her government has to make sure the power, the airports, the hospitals, grocery stores and gas stations are functioning and “then we will bring people home.”
She confirmed police are still turning back residents attempting to return and that has to stop.
“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.”
Vandal, the federal Northern Affairs minister, said his government will continue to provide support as long as required. He also pointed to the co-operation of the federal, provincial and municipal governments during this disaster.
“This is unprecedented. I think in times of need Canadians help one another and we were all together today. We’ve all been working together from the very beginning,” he said.
Vandal said he’s spoken to territory residents who have been away from home for the past two weeks who are in good spirits but are anxious to go home.