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Yellowknife post-wildfire migration home gets underway today

Evacuation order in place since Aug. 16 scheduled to lift at noon Sept. 6

Thousands of vehicles are expected to travel to Yellowknife in the coming days as a three-week evacuation order is set to lift at noon today.

Territorial officials have said the migration home will go forward unless there are significant changes to fire and highway conditions.

More than 20,000 people were forced to flee by road and air when the order came into force on Aug. 16 due to an encroaching wildfire.

Kelsey Worth packed up her children, two cats and dog and drove to Alberta — first to Calgary, then High River, before finally settling in the small southern hamlet of Cayley.

She is picking up groceries and other items before beginning the long drive north Thursday.

Worth says she doesn’t have to be back at work until Monday so they will wait an extra day to head back so as not to clog up the highway with more traffic.

“We’ve got a few extra days where we can take it a little slower,” she said.

Government officials have said they are making plans to keep the highway safe for those returning. They are also ensuring there are places for people to get fuel.

The Yellowknife Co-op has said its shelves are stocked with groceries.

Residents have been advised they should prepare to be self-reliant for 72 hours upon their return.

Most people left Yellowknife by road, but thousands also took flights with destinations in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba.

The territory’s Emergency Management Organization has said more than 2,000 people have registered for re-entry flights. Some flights are expected to land in Yellowknife Wednesday.

For those who remained in the territorial capital, it has been a welcome relief to see the faces of essential workers who began returning over the last few days.

“It’s been very tough days, long days — and not just for people on the ground, but evacuees who have been separated from their homes and families and friends,” said Kieron Testart, who works with Yellowknives Dene First Nation emergency operations.

The fire threatening Yellowknife is now considered held, which means it isn’t expected to grow under current conditions.

Testart said people returning to Yellowknife will feel relieved, but there are others elsewhere in the territory who still can’t return. Thousands of people living in Hay River and Fort Smith, who were ordered out days before Yellowknife, remain displaced from their homes.

“There are many northerners … who aren’t coming home,” Testart said.

“We can’t forget about them, too. It’s truly devastating.”

READ ALSO: ‘Ghost town’: thousands continue to flee Yellowknife as wildfires loom

READ ALSO: Yellowknifers ready to return home as evacuation order set to lift