Fort Smith residents can return Monday. Here's what you need to know

A sign for Fort Smith Health and Social Services, pictured in September 2019. (Mario Di Ciccio/Radio-Canada - image credit)
A sign for Fort Smith Health and Social Services, pictured in September 2019. (Mario Di Ciccio/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Fort Smith residents can start returning to the community on Monday starting at 8 a.m.

The town made the official announcement on Facebook that residents can return Monday. Road barriers will be removed at 6 a.m., and the evacuation order will lift at 8 a.m. This was always the town's plan, although officials said it was dependent on weather.

Louise Beaulieu, a Fort Smith town councillor, says residents should expect to return to "a very horrific scene."

"As they enter they're going to see a lot of burnt area," she said.

Patients of the Northern Lights Special Care Home in Fort Smith, N.W.T. will not be able to return until health care operations reach full capacity.

David McGuire, a spokesperson for the Northwest Territories Health and Social Service Authority, issued a news release around noon on Saturday detailing what services residents can expect if they do return in the coming days.

The emergency department in Fort Smith is expected to be operating at about 85 per cent capacity on Monday, the tentative return date for residents.

The news release says that the emergency department will have 24 hour on-site services, but that some patients requiring admission may need to be transferred to other facilities.

The inpatient unit is expected to be at reduced capacity, with four out of five beds available. Patients may be transferred depending on their needs.

The midwifery unit will operate at reduced capacity. Pregnant women with urgent concerns will be admitted to the emergency department up until Sept. 21. After that the unit is expected to operate at pre-evacuation levels.

The lab will be operating at full capacity starting Monday, while primary care will be at 50 per cent capacity up until Sept. 22.

Child and family services as well as community counselling services will be operating at reduced capacity.

The news release says that the NTHSSA will be encouraging staff to wear masks to reduce the impacts of respiratory viruses on the workforce.

In a Facebook post, Wood Buffalo National Park said the part of the fire closest to Fort Smith has been 90 per cent contained or controlled.

A controlled fire perimeter means there has been sufficient suppression action to ensure no further spread of fire at the perimeter.

However, Highway 5 remains closed due to safety concerns and limited visibility. Essential workers will be allowed through the closures if the conditions are safe enough.

The town of Fort Smith's return plan says vulnerable populations, including those requiring special health care support should wait until all services are back in place.

Although the evacuation order will be removed, an evacuation alert will remain in place, meaning residents should be prepared to leave again if the situation changes.