Things started to get grey and smoky quickly in the town of Hay River, N.W.T., on Sunday night, May 14, 2023. Michael Maceachern, Team Lead Security at Ekati Diamond Mine, was in the process of gathering a few belongings and packing a suitcase, as the fire department came knocking on his door asking him and his family to evacuate.
The scene unfolding was reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic movie, with burnt pine needles and ash on the ground, emergency vehicle sirens blaring and firefighters rushing door-to-door.
“I went upstairs and looked out the window at a huge red and orange glow in the sky,” said Mike. “That is the last sight I took in before leaving our home.”
The wildfires are the second natural disaster to hit Hay River in two consecutive years, with the floods of 2022 still fresh in many residents’ minds.
“I grabbed my work items and a few belongings, including a big plastic container of childhood and family photos we already had wrapped up since the flood,” said Mike. “We were told to head to Yellowknife, but most accommodations were booked, including in the neighbouring communities of Peace River and High Level, as other people were also being evacuated due to the Alberta wildfires.”
Together with a few friends and neighbours, Mike and his family spent the night in their vehicles, in a parking lot along the highway and proceeded to Slave Lake the next morning. With no accommodations available in town, they made the decision to head to Edmonton, where he rented an Airbnb house with 10 other people.
Despite having to drive almost three hours to catch a plane from Calgary to Ekati mine, Mike still managed to keep a positive attitude about the situation and was determined to get back to site in time for his shift rotation.
“Things are good I think, all things considered. It’s nice to be at site and have some sense of ‘normal’”, said Mike. “Evacuation orders are still in place in Hay River and there was a virtual town hall meeting on May 23 to discuss reopening, but it didn’t provide any solid dates – it may be another four to five days before any plans for re-entry to the community are shared by officials.”
Twenty-two Arctic Canadian employees and contractors who work at Ekati have been displaced from their homes since May 15 and the Kátł’odeeche First Nation has confirmed that its band office, a group home for Elders and a number of private homes, have been lost in the flames.
To aid with relief efforts, Arctic Canadian donated $10,000 to the Northwest Territories United Way, a non-profit organization, that is coordinating aid for residents in the area and the nearby Kátł’odeeche First Nation community.
If you would like to join in and support those who have been affected, consider helping with:
- Monetary donations to the United Way NWT: https://nwt.unitedway.ca/fires/.
- Gift card donations, which are accepted at the Yellowknife Evacuation Centre at the Multiplex.
- Physical goods, which can be dropped off at the Yellowknife Salvation Army Thrift Shop and labeled: Fire Relief.
Sunday May 14, 2023: Timelapse photos of the same stretch of Hay River Highway shows the extent of the wildfires encroaching on the town. Photos courtesy of Michael Maceachern.
View from Hay River Highway heading into town at 2 p.m.