Calgary rallies to support people fleeing wildfires in the Northwest Territories


When the evacuation order came in on Wednesday night, Jonathan Geraci needed to figure out how he would make sure those he works with would get out of Yellowknife safely. 

He's a case worker with the Salvation Army in the Northwest Territories and looks after people who are homeless or are in vulnerable positions.

But as the fire was approaching the territory's capital city, Geraci also had to think about himself. 

A wildfire near the capital of the Northwest Territories had prompted an evacuation order for the city of 20,000 people, and most residents complied with a departure deadline of noon on Friday.

"If everything burns, what's irreplaceable … so I grabbed some family pictures, grabbed some clothes and if I never see the rest again, I guess that's how it goes," he said.

"We had to get the clients ready, but also going back to our own homes and saying 'what do I keep, what do I leave behind."

Geraci flew down to Calgary with 15 people, all of whom are experiencing homeless, from the Salvation Army in Yellowknife on Wednesday. 

He and his team headed to another Salvation Army shelter in Calgary where they were taken in and looked after, despite the location being almost full.

"Immediately I was like, how could we help, if and when people come," said Cliff Wiebe, the executive director of the Salvation Army in Calgary.

Often, he said the shelters are at capacity, but there was already a plan to convert space in the building to house more clients.

Wiebe said the team sped up the process and helped the clients and the team get set up with what they needed to continue their jobs.

'How can I help?'

The wildfire situation in the territory has forced thousands from their homes in Yellowknife, prompting an evacuation order for Friday afternoon. 

A number of those seeking safety have made their way to Calgary as flights were directed to YYC and resources, accommodation, and other supports were made available over the past two days from the city as well as other community organizations.

"We're trying to mobilize a bit here, to be able to help with what's needed in the city," said Anne Yates-Laberge, the executive director with the Hillhurst United Church.

"One of the gaps that we see is there are a lot of people asking how can I help?"

Yates-Laberge's organization is creating a database of people who are offering support and people who need support and matching them. 

She said they've had 25 people come forward so far — among those, 12 offers have been for housing — and that number is expected to grow.