More residents of the Northwest Territories began arriving in northern and central Alberta Wednesday after the people of Yellowknife were ordered to leave their homes due to threat from an approaching wildfire.
Less than 12 hours after opening, a reception centre at the Leduc Recreation Centre reached capacity.
“After registering and finding accommodation for more than 732 people, the Leduc Registration Centre, operated in cooperation with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) will close at 8 p.m. on Aug. 17 and will not reopen,” the City of Leduc said Thursday night.
Accommodations are Leduc are now at capacity, it added.
“I am so proud of our hotel community and staff for stepping up to the challenge and welcoming hundreds of people into the City of Leduc,” Leduc Mayor Bob Young said in a statement.
“Thank you to our residents, who were quick to reach out looking for ways to provide support.”
The reception centre opened at the rec centre Thursday morning.
By mid-afternoon, it had registered 281 people and had 44 hotel rooms left of the 118 rooms officials had reserved, according to Scott MacDonald, deputy chief of operations at Leduc Fire Services.
By the evening, 241 local hotel rooms were assigned and 732 people registered into the provincial system.
A new reception centre will open at the Edmonton Expo Centre on Aug. 18 at 12 p.m.
Leduc city manager Derek Prohar said he hadn’t seen an evacuation of this scale before.
“Since the wildfires in Alberta earlier this year happened, we’ve had a plan in place to accept evacuees on this scale,” Prohar said.
Christina Morris came to Leduc from Hay River, N.W.T., with her partner, stepson and dog. Her partner’s business in Enterprise was destroyed when almost the entire town was destroyed earlier this week.
“We got out in the nick of time. We were really lucky,” said Morris.
Morris said she plans to spend a day or two in Leduc before moving to a friend’s acreage in Okotoks.
She added she believes there needs to be a better disaster management plan in place in the Northwest Territories.
Last year, Hay River flooded, forcing about 3,500 people to flee. Earlier this year, the town and the neighbouring K’atl’odeeche First Nation were impacted by a different wildfire, causing the residents to leave again.
“In terms of being prepared, I feel like this is kind of a free-for-all… it’s almost like run for your life, let the best man win,” Morris said.
Whitecourt and Fox Creek, both northwest of Edmonton, are ready to receive evacuees.
“We have businesses that are prepared and that are aware that there could be an influx of people,” said Whitecourt Mayor Tom Pickard.
“Right now, we don’t know the numbers that we’re getting because of the time frame that they’re leaving Yellowknife — you’ve got to realize it’s almost 1,300 kilometres north of us, so we don’t know how long it’ll take, what they’re bringing with them or what they’re doing.”
The Whitecourt reception centre will stay open to 10 p.m. Thursday and on Friday will open “first thing in the morning,” said Pickard.
Pickard said the town learned from the mass evacuations that happened in May, when it received about 3,200 people forced from their homes in Alberta.
“We certainly streamlined our process then, and we hope that we can take those lessons and make the experience even easier for the people that are coming up,” he said.
Fox Creek Mayor Sheila Gilmore said residents of her town are also used to what happens during a wildfire evacuation — it was one of the communities evacuated to Whitecourt in May.
“We’re excited to have them, in the way that we know exactly how they’re feeling to leave your home and leave everything that you’ve worked hard for, without knowing when you get to go home and what’s going to happen to your community,” she said.
“I know our communities talked a lot about if we were ever given the opportunity to give back in this way, it would be so welcome.”
Gilmore said she was told to expect about 1,500 people arriving in the town.
Yellowknife resident Maria Leppannen drove 12 hours to get to Peace River Wednesday, stayed the night, and was heading to the Edmonton area Thursday.
Leppannen believed many fellow residents will be heading to Leduc to wait out the fire.
“I think it’s just reassuring being around the community of Yellowknife,” she said.
“We’re all in this together, so that’s helping a lot.”
Edmonton preparing, St. Albert reaches capacity
The City of Edmonton will begin receiving evacuees at the Edmonton EXPO Centre at 7515 118 Avenue NW starting Friday at noon.
“The centre will provide all immediate needs for evacuees including temporary lodging, food services, clothing, pet day care and health care,” said a news release from the city.
“Evacuees can bring their pets, but are encouraged to not leave animals in vehicles due to the hot temperature expected.”
Inmates held in institutions in N.W.T. will also be transported south and be held in Edmonton-area facilities for the duration of the evacuation period, according to Mike Ellis, provincial Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services.
Evacuees were accepted at the reception centre in St. Albert until 8 p.m. Wednesday when the centre reached capacity.
“St. Albert will continue to provide support for the registered evacuees we are hosting in our community,” the city said.
“Wildfire evacuees currently registered with the City of St. Albert will continue to receive supports in St. Albert — including accommodations — and do not need to go to Leduc.”
All residents of Yellowknife were ordered to evacuate Wednesday night as a wildfire – estimated in size at 162,936 hectares – crept closer to the capital city.
The most recent update from the N.W.T. government said the fire is 15 kilometres away from Yellowknife.
There are also evacuation orders in effect for N’Dilo, Dettah and the Ingraham Trail.