A plan is in place to see all Telegraph Creek wildfire evacuees home by Christmas.
The remote village of roughly 300 people in Northern B.C. has been under an evacuation order since early August when the massive Alkali Lake wildfire ripped through the area, consuming homes, businesses and more than 120,000 hectares of forest and vital wildlife habitat.
The Tahltan Central Government (TCG) announced in press release this morning the first of the displaced residents, currently scattered throughout B.C. and Yukon, will return Nov. 15 with the remainder hopefully in their homes by Dec. 20.
“The EOC [Emergency Operations Centre] has been working tirelessly to make a return to Telegraph Creek possible,” Feddie Louie, Tahltan EOC director and recovery manager said. “The specific return date will depend on when each home has been cleaned of smoke damage and is refurbished.”
Twenty-seven structures were lost in Telegraph Creek, including 21 homes, two businesses, a daycare and a church. The majority of structures left standing were impacted with significant fire, water, or smoke damage. Combined losses on surrounding land in the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine total more than 160 structures, including fish camps, historical sites, grave sites and seasonal cottages.
No lives were lost in the fires.
Canada’s minister of Indigenous Services, Jane Philpott, toured the area mid October along with representatives from the Assembly of First Nations and the B.C. First Nations Health Authority. In a Facebook post Philpott called Telegraph Creek the “epicentre” of B.C.’s worst wildfire season on record.
“The Tahltan Nation itself incurred the worst structural damage caused by wildfires of any First Nations community in recorded Canadian history,” she wrote.
“[Tahltan Band] Chief Rick McLean and his team have shown the most remarkable leadership and resilience in the face of this tragedy.”
Since BC Wildfire Service downgraded the fire late August, power and telephone lines, drinking water and septic facilities have all needed extensive assessment and repairs. Crews have also been clearing danger trees and other hazards, inspecting slope stability and repairing the highway — Telegraph Creek’s only access road.
From the early stages of the evacuation public donations of every sort, including food, water, fuel, clothing and household items, started arriving by the truckload from across B.C. to distribution centres in Terrace and Dease Lake. A large sum of cash donations, including $87,000 from a benefit concert held last month in Whitehorse, YT, was also made to the TCG from individuals and businesses across the country.
“One of the things that I have learned is that you really see the true colours of people during a crisis,” Chief McLean said. “I am overwhelmed by the love and support the Tahltan Nation has received. Thank you to all volunteers, donors and to those who have assisted.”