Fire-weary Northwest Territories is preparing for tens of thousands of people to return home after a much-needed win in the battle against a blaze that was threatening Yellowknife.

The status of a wildfire located 17 kilometres from the city’s edge was changed to “held” Monday after a weekend of cooler temperatures and a small amount of rain helped firefighting efforts.

City officials say while the development is a major turn in the fire fight, it’s not safe for people to come back to the territorial capital.

Sheila Bassi-Kellett, Yellowknife’s city manager, says there will be multiple phases to lifting the evacuation order.

Essential personnel will return first, she says, and grocery stores, gas stations and hospitals will need to have supplies and staff before everyone else can come back.

She says it’s been a really challenging time but people in Yellowknife are resilient.

Jessica Davey-Quantick, a wildfire information officer, says there has been good news in the wildfire battle across the territory. Several fires threatening communities are now being held and there were no new fire starts on Monday.

“We are making strides,” she said.

Hot temperatures, dry conditions and some wind could cause problems in the fight against a dynamic wildfire near Hay River. Additional structures were destroyed by the blaze over the weekend.

Northwest Territories starts plans to lift evacuation as wildfire battle sees shift. #NWT #NWTWildfires #Wildfires

The territory has seen an unprecedented wildfire season that caused evacuation orders for Yellowknife and many other communities. Nearly 70 per cent of the residents in the Northwest Territories have been displaced.

Members of the legislature unanimously voted Monday to delay an election scheduled for October because of wildfires. The new date for the N.W.T. election will be Nov. 14.

The members of the territorial legislature also used the sitting to push forward an extra $75-million special assessment for firefighting in the territory – quadrupling the current budget.

Further expenses are likely. Jay Boast, a territorial government spokesperson, said Monday that plans were also being made to figure out how to get many community members who have been scattered across Canada home. They have to consider flights and fuel for planes, he said, among a slew of other details.

“It is going to require a thoughtful and staged approach to bring everybody back.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2023.

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