'I'm grateful': Alberta fire evacuees fill K'atlodeeche First Nation shelter

The evacuee centre on the K'atl'odeeche First Nation reserve is full, but the community is looking for more room.

For some evacuees, relocation brings back memories of past flight from forest fire

Joe Martel fled Meander River, Alta., because of wildfire's burning in the region. He said in a previous forest fire, he lost his home in Chateh, Alta. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

An evacuee centre set up at the Dene Wellness Centre on the K'atl'odeeche First Nation reserve near Hay River, N.W.T., is full.

Thirty-six people have arrived at the centre since Monday, driven by forest fires in northern Alberta just west of High Level. Some have arrived from Meander River, Alta., approximately 120 kilometres south of the N.W.T. - Alberta border.

Meander River is under a voluntary evacuation order, but as of Tuesday, the community had been without electricity for two days, leaving fuel pumps at the gas station inoperable. Late Tuesday, a fuel tanker truck arrived to be greeted by a lineup of vehicles.

Joseph Martel, who lives in Meander River, arrived at the Dene Wellness Centre on Tuesday. He said he's apprehensive about leaving his home behind, and for good reason —  he lost his house in Chateh, Alta., to wildfire in the 1990s.

"I don't want to lose my house the second time around because the first house that I lost … I had to start from scratch."

Martel said he was on a forest fire fighting crew when he lost his home. He says he needed the money so he stayed on with his crew to work, despite then having a wife and dog burned out of their home.

"It was mentally disturbing but I had to make a living and stay there," Martel said.

"I couldn't go home because I had to make some money to recover a little bit of what I lost."

'I'm grateful'

Martel said he could have gone south under the voluntary evacuation, but chose to go north where he said he felt more at home.

"There's good people up here and lots of relations … very friendly people," he said. "I'm grateful."

Roy Salopree, an evacuee from Meander River, says all he can do is wait and see if winds will drive a wildfire raging just west of High Level northward. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

Roy Salopree, also from Meander River, said this round of evacuations brings back memories of when he was forced from his home several years ago, again under threat of wildfire, for 21 days.

"It's really unpredictable what's going to happen," Salopree said. "It depends on the wind."

"Whatever happens, happens I guess. 'Cause that's mother nature."

By end of day Wednesday, the K'atl'odeeche First Nation said they were opening a nearby wilderness lodge for newcomers. The town of Hay River has said it can take people in as well.

Written by Walter Strong, based on reporting by Hilary Bird