Armed forces team finds town and reserve prepared to accept evacuees from wildfire

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
A five-member team from the Canadian Armed Forces was in Hay River for Operation Nunakput. The team consisted of, left to right, Lt. Denis King of Saskatoon, Capt. Tony Petrilli of Calgary, Warrant Officer Russ Storring from Saskatoon, Sgt. Phil Robinson from Winnipeg and Cpl. Kevin Squissato from Thunder Bay, Ont. Their mission was to assess Hay River and the Hay River Reserve for their readiness to accept evacuees from a wildfire elsewhere in the South Slave.

Hay River and the Hay River Reserve are ready, if necessary, to act as an evacuation centre in case of a wildfire threatening people elsewhere in the South Slave.

That’s the general result of an assessment of the communities’ joint capabilities as part of Operation Nunakput, an annual exercise by the Canadian Armed Forces.

A group of five military personnel were in Hay River and on the Hay River River Reserve to do such an assessment.

The findings are “very positive,” said Capt. Tony Petrilli of Calgary.

“They seem to be quite well-equipped and quite capable,” he said of the two communities.

Petrilli told The Hub that the assessment looked at a very specific question at the request of the emergency measures division of the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.

That question was whether Hay River and the Hay River Reserve are ready to accept 420 evacuees from a wildfire and able to support them for 72 hours.

The team from the Canadian Armed Forces, which arrived on July 8 and departed on July 14, looked at 14 assessment factors – reception centre, accommodations, water, sewage, hygiene/sanitation, food sources, food preparation, medical services, security services, garbage services, electricity, leisure, Internet and transport.

“It’s an interesting town because for its size it’s obviously got a lot of infrastructure because it’s the Hub of the North,” said Petrilli.

The captain also said the town and the reserve both have good volunteer networks to support evacuees in case of a wildfire, noting they are experienced with having a large influx of people, such as during the NWT Track and Field Championships every year and the Dene National Assembly happening this week on the Hay River Reserve.

When Petrilli was asked if any of the factors need improving, he said it was just a matter of several details highlighted by the visiting team.

Hay River Mayor Brad Mapes agrees with the assessment of the team from the Armed Forces.

“Hay River is pretty prepared,” he said, while praising director of protective services Ross Potter.

“I heard some positive thoughts that we were up to speed and it’s great to hear that,” Mapes added.

The mayor believes one reason for that preparedness is the town has a lot of experience in emergency planning because of the annual threat of flooding from the spring breakup of the Hay River.

Operation Nunakput involved other areas of the NWT, including Great Slave Lake, the Nahanni River, the Mackenzie River, and the communities of Tulita and Deline.

About 140 members of the Canadian Armed Forces and other government departments and agencies were deployed on Operation Nunakput between June 26 and July 18.