Favourable conditions and the efforts of fire crews have allowed residents of both Yukon communities evacuated last week to begin returning home.
The evacuation order for the Village of Mayo that was issued on Aug. 6 was rescinded Aug. 13 as the fire that prompted the evacuation’s important flanks were secured. The evacuation order for Old Crow was also lifted late in the day Aug. 14 amid the use of bucket helicopters on the fire near the community and shifting winds that carried off the dense smoke that had blanketed it.
An evacuation alert remains in place for returning residents of both communities.
The end of the evacuation order for Mayo allowed residents who had been staying in Whitehorse to return. The order also covered properties along the Silver Trail between kilometres 35 and 66.
“I would like to extend once again a huge thank you to Kwanlin Dün First Nation and everyone who came out to our assistance during this time. In the coming days we’ll be sharing more gratitude to the many fire crew, organizations and people who came out to support us. Safe travels to all of our community members and a reminder to drive safely,” First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun (FNNND) Chief Dawna Hope states in a notice to the media sent out Aug. 13 shortly after the evacuation order was lifted.
“Thank you Creator, for watching over us all!”
The FNNND notice states that Mayo looks much the same as it did when residents left last week, as structure protection sprinklers and favourable weather kept buildings safe. One visible difference for the returning residents will be the trees felled to form a fire guard on the edge of the community. A notice from Yukon Protective Services published to its Facebook page on Aug. 14 notes that structure protection was removed from most buildings in the community.
The Talbot Creek Fire, which had been the main cause of concern when Mayo was evacuated, is burning just shy of 5,000 hectares. Also nearby, the Moose Creek Headwater Fire is 1,112 hectares in size and Talbot Creek 2 is listed at a quarter hectare.
Work is still ongoing to put out the fires. The FNNND notice states that 11 fire crews are still in the area.
In Old Crow, a shift in the winds offered both relief from the smoke that had been choking the northern Yukon community for days and eased concerns about them fanning the flames. Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN) Chief Pauline Frost said the decision to step the evacuation order down to an evacuation alert was made at around 3 p.m. on Aug. 14 as the change in the weather arrived and aircraft worked to suppress fires burning north and south of the community.
Frost said the biggest concern in recent days had been 70-kilometre-per-hour winds blowing from the north and the possibility that they could cause flare-ups and push the fire toward Old Crow. Wind from the south would have been similarly concerning but Frost said the weather changed in Old Crow’s favour with wind blowing out of the west and taking the worst of the smoke with it.
“Yesterday was smoky and today it’s clear the wind is going in the right direction. So it’s blowing the wind away from community and so we’re grateful for that,” Frost said.
Environment Canada’s special air quality statement for Old Crow remains in effect with those in the area being reminded about the possible negative effects of exposure to wildfire smoke and the importance of taking breaks from it. Throughout the smoky days of the past few weeks Old Crow has had locations with air filtration and air conditioning in place set up to help people get out of the smoke and the heat.
Frost said that fire suppression efforts have also provided some comfort to those in Old Crow. With all those factors considered and consultation with Wildland Fire Management and the territory’s Emergency Measures Organization, the decision was made to allow people to start returning to the community.
Essential support staff will return first followed by a plane with extra freight and food. More citizens will return on flights later in the week.
The chief added that it is important to acknowledge everyone who stepped up to help the evacuees from both communities and allowed for the quick evacuation of everyone who had to leave Old Crow.
Across the in the territory there are now 143 fires burning and 148,215 hectares have burned this summer.
Contact Jim Elliot at email@example.com