Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, residents who covered their own evacuation costs continue to request financial support. As such, I have requested each to provide me with copies of their receipts and to sign a statutory declaration stating they have not received funds from other sources to cover those costs. These documents will be provided to this, and the federal government, for reimbursement consideration.
Mr. Speaker, I will provide context as to why residents may have covered their own costs and not followed MACAS's direction to use a designated evacuation centre. Mr. Speaker, let me start off by saying that on August 12th, Fort Smith residents were in the process of evacuating to Hay River where they were registered and were provided temporary accommodation and meals. At the same time, the hamlet of Enterprise was hosting their annual Gateway Jamboree. There was no concern of fires as it was understood the fire was still a long way from the community and posed limited risk - how mistaken we were - as what was to be unleashed can only be likened to a terrifying nightmare.
Mr. Speaker, for residents of Hay River, K'atlodeeche, and Enterprise, it was on August 13th, an evacuation alert was issued and soon followed by an evacuation order at 3 p.m. Residents, along with evacuees from Fort Smith, were directed to leave as soon as possible and all were told that ground and air transportation would be provided for those who had no other way out. All this was unfolding very quickly.
Mr. Speaker, some residents who were able to leave immediately with their own vehicle made their way out prior to the nightmare that was about to be become all too real. Day turned into night quickly as smoke blackened the sky and made visibility nonexistent. Drivers were unable to see as they headed directly into the path of the fire and had to drive with their vehicle door open as they tried to find a center line to confirm they were still on the road and not in the ditch. The heat from the fire was so intense that it melted the plastic and paint off the vehicles. Vehicles that hit the ditch were quickly enveloped by flames with passengers barely escaping with their life as pets and possessions were consumed by the heat and fire. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.
---Unanimous consent granted
Mr. Speaker, as the fire was rolling over the treetops and consuming homes and equipment in Paradise Valley, residents were forced to take refuge in the river by sliding down a steep embankment and standing in the water for safety while others drove into the firestorm. Along Patterson Road, a similar picture emerged. With the fire burning all around them, residents were quickly gathering up personal items to take with them, all facing a darkened sky and flames which caused breathing and visibility issues and forced residents into the water while others jumped into their vehicles and drove onto the highway and into an inferno.
Mr. Speaker, if you were not there, if you were not one of those leaving by vehicle, if you were not one in the heart of the fire, and if you did not see the aftermath firsthand, then you would not understand why evacuees, at their own cost, took shelter at the first safe place they came to. Shaken and traumatized, with their lives at risk, with the mental and emotional anxiety of it all, their first thought was preservation and the safety and well-being of their families. They had no idea how long this evacuation would last. The sad part is that this government expected these evacuees to be thinking rationally about accommodation and meals.
Mr. Speaker, this was the reality that took place on August 13th, 2023. I will not have questions for the Minister of MACA or the Minister of Finance on this issue today but I do ask them, and all of Cabinet, to reflect on the terror these evacuees went through and come back prior to the end of this session showing compassion, empathy, and a commitment to support those left out of any financial compensation. Thank you.