Airdrie is doing its part to chip in to the evacuation effort amid continued wildfires in the Northwest Territories, which have displaced roughly 30,000 residents of the territory in recent weeks.
According to Kevin Weinberger, the City of Airdrie's director of community growth and protective services, there are 135 evacuees from Yellowknife currently staying at three of Airdrie's hotels as out-of-control wildfires continue to wreak havoc on the territory. An evacuation order issued on Aug. 17 remains in effect.
Weinberger, Airdrie's former long-time fire chief, said the City of Airdrie is working with Calgary's Emergency Social Services out of the Emergency Management Centre to manage food vouchers for the evacuees and provide other areas of support where needed.
He said staff from Community Links and the Airdrie and District Victims Assistance Society are also offering assistance to the evacuees.
“We’ve provided them victim assistance support, Community Links support, and we’re meeting at the hotel every day to go through if they have any needs or if there’s anything we’re missing that they require,” he said.
“It’s the kind of community we are. We’re here to assist and the more we can help, the better.”
Weinberger said the evacuees are likely going to stay in Airdrie until after the Labour Day long weekend, noting the re-entry plan for them to return home is scheduled to start Sept. 5.
As of noon on Aug. 25, according to the NWT government website, there are 239 active fires burning in the territory, with two new fires starting up in the last 24 hours. Thirty-six fires have been declared extinguished, and 2,968,488 hectares of land have been affected.
'It was so smoky'
While she's not one of the Yellowknifers staying in a hotel, Shannon Allerston is among the residents of the NWT capital who have landed in Airdrie since the evacuation order was announced last week.
A 16-year resident of Yellowknife, Allerston is staying at her father's house in Airdrie along with her two kids and two dogs.
Recounting the experience of evacuating Yellowknife last Wednesday, Allerston said she read an article on local news outlet Cabin Radio's website on Aug. 17 that reported an evacuation order was imminent.
“It was so smoky every day and inching closer, so we were on edge about what we should be doing without being told a whole lot about what the plan was if the fire came any closer,” she said.
After reading the article in the morning, Allerston said she returned home that lunch to pack up the truck for the long drive south.
“I’d actually packed an action packer with food and clothes for me and the kids,” she said. “My mom was actually visiting Yellowknife at the time so she had her suitcase packed just in case. I saw that article in the morning, went home at lunch, packed it all into the truck and hit the road.”
The drive to Airdrie took more than 30 hours, according to Allerston. Driving with her two kids and a friend, she said they stopped in Peace River the first night, and were able to sleep in a family's camper van that night before continuing their journey south.
Having been in Airdrie for more than a week, Allerston said the family is mostly just waiting on additional info from news and government sources.
Echoing Weinberger's comments, she said she's heard the earliest people may be allowed to start returning to Yellowknife is Sept. 5, but that it depends on how the fires behave in the meantime.
“But it’s going to have to be a phased thing and it depends what the fire does in the next few days,” she said. “It’s supposed to be pretty hot and windy the next few days. They’ve managed to keep it the same distance away since we all left. I guess it depends on how the fire acts, how hot and active it remains. It’s out of control still, so [we can't leave] until it’s under control.”
'A little bit of normalcy'
As the City and a few local charities show their support to the NWT evacuees another local organization that is providing some assistance is the Airdrie Minor Hockey Association (AMHA).
The local minor hockey association is providing a much-needed sense of normalcy to five young players from the territory who suddenly find themselves staying in Airdrie.
Christie Cameron, the AMHA president, said the five players have been invited to take part in the hockey association's pre-season prep camps next week.
She said the AMHA received an email from Hockey Alberta last week, asking them if they'd be willing to accommodate some of the evacuated players for a few weeks.
“Sure enough, the executive committee talked about it, and although our whole program is pretty much bursting at the seams…we all agreed it would be good for these young athletes to get their minds off their circumstances and allow them to go to the camps,” Cameron said.
“We’re happy to give them a little bit of normalcy and a bit of regular life.”
According to Cameron, there are five youth hockey players from NWT who will be practicing with Airdrie teams next week – a U7 player, a U9 player, a U15 AAA player, and two U17 AAA players. Cameron said getting some ice time will keep the players' skills sharp in case they have tryouts coming up next month.
She added the Kalix Legacy Foundation is assisting the players as well by donating some hockey equipment for the players to use while they're in town.