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‘Heartbreaking’ return for residents to fire-ravaged Enterprise, NW.T., after evacuation order lifts

Residents of Enterprise, N.W.T., can return to the damaged but not destroyed hamlet after a wildfire took 90 per cent of the community. 

Mayor looks to set up mobile homes in fire break, about 8 homes spared after wildfire.

A burned vehicle and other fire-damaged debris is seen by some trees.

Residents of Enterprise, N.W.T., have started returning to the wildfire-ravaged community, after the hamlet lifted its evacuation order on Friday — though many residents have little or nothing to return to.

The small community was evacuated nearly six weeks ago because of a wildfire. The mayor has since said that more than 90 per cent of it has burned down.

Enterprise Mayor Michael St Amour said that eight homes in the town of about 80 people have been spared, while 40 homes were lost in the fire last month. Residents who have lost homes are scattered in hotels, staying with family and friends, and in travel trailers.

St Amour said he was surprised to find that his own home was among those still standing.

“I thought I was the owner of a duffel bag and a dog, basically, when I left,” he said Friday.

St Amour said the return will be difficult for many people. He said roads, where there are no more existing buildings, have been blocked off to limit access to the “disaster zone.”

“I’m worried about the children coming back seeing that they have nothing left, the parents not knowing what’s going to happen this winter,” St Amour said.

He sees the damage as an opportunity to rebuild the community from a nearly blank slate.

“We have the opportunity to do something good,” he said. “Let’s work together and build a beautiful community. Not that it wasn’t before, but we can fix it, we can make it better.”

A man stands in a parking lot being interviewed by someone holding a CBC microphone.

St Amour said the community is looking to provide residents with mobile homes that he said the community will set up in a fire break just south of Enterprise.

He said that will allow community members to return and will keep them away from loose wires, nails and other contaminants, and debris that St Amour said crews are still cleaning up.

Speaking on Friday, St Amour said he had finally had a good night’s sleep.

“I hope this is the first step of people coming home,” he said.

‘I don’t have words for it’

Eric and Vi Bartlett are also among the lucky ones who didn’t lose their home in Enterprise. Driving into the community on Friday, Vi said it was “devastating” to see all the damage.

“It’s heartbreaking, it’s just awful,” she said, tearing up.

“I don’t have words for it.”

An older man and a woman sit in a vehicle, with someone holding a CBC microphone at the passenger window.

Eric said their home suffered “minimal” damage.

“At least not everything was gone, and nobody was injured,” he said.

“There was no lives lost, there were no injuries, so that’s a blessing,” said Vi.

A notice posted to the hamlet’s Facebook page warns that the remains of burned structures contain “potentially hazardous” and “toxic materials”. The post says that community members whose homes and business burned should not enter their properties until a damage assessment and environmental review have been completed.

St Amour said that “assessors” with the territorial government have been in the community to begin that work.

He said the hamlet is doing its best to welcome residents back but that it’s been a difficult process.

“It’s disheartening, nobody asked for this in Enterprise, and everybody wants to be home,” he said.

an aerial view of fire rubble

D’Arcy J Moses, a Dene First Nation fashion designer, ran his business out of Enterprise. Moses has been staying in his home town of Pedzéh Kı̨ First Nation in N.W.T., and said he’s not mentally prepared to see the damage in Enterprise and what’s left of his lost studio.

“To be honest, I’m still processing it, ” he said.

Moses lost 15 industrial sewing machines — about a quarter million dollars in equipment alone, not including fabric, patterns and decades of pan-northern beadwork and couture garments.

He said he is traveling from Wrigley, N.W.T., down to Edmonton and plans to stop in Enterprise on the way. He said it will be a kind of closure.

“That will be part of the process,” he said.

a man surrounded by designer tools

Moses said he plans to rebuild his business and hopes to access territorial support, but if he has to foot the initial bill and wait for reimbursement, he said that could be challenging.

“My business was hit pretty hard by COVID, and I was just starting to come back,” he said.

St Amour said he plans to continue lobbying for more support for the hamlet.

“We have families that have three, four, five children and they lost absolutely everything,” he said.

“There’s a five-year-old girl that doesn’t have anything to go to school with, and so on.”

Despite the unanswered questions about rebuilding, St Amour said he’s looking forward to being among his fellow community members.

“I miss my friends,” he said.

“We’re a close-knit community, and some people have been here for five years and some people have been here for 40 years. And the people that I’ve spoken to all want to come back.”

With files from Kate Kyle, Carla Ulrich and Travis Burke

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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