Fire devastates pillar of Carmacks community

A 92-year-old Carmacks elder has been left with nothing after a fire on Saturday demolished her home and vehicle. "You can't salvage anything," said Ragene Blackjack, one of May Roberts' granddaughters. "It's destroyed.

A 92-year-old Carmacks elder has been left with nothing after a fire on Saturday demolished her home and vehicle.

“You can’t salvage anything,” said Ragene Blackjack, one of May Roberts’ granddaughters. “It’s destroyed.

“Nobody got hurt, everybody’s safe. It’s just – she lost everything.”

None of Roberts’ belongings, or those of the 16-year-old girl who lives with her, were salvaged, including the elder’s van, which was parked in front of the house and was also engulfed by the flames.

“It appears the fire was electrical in nature and obviously accidental,” said Const. Paul Miller.

On Saturday, at around 5:30 p.m., 16-year-old Brittany saw smoke coming from the bathroom. The teenager opened the door to a smoke-filled room, ran to the next-door neighbour and called the police. While waiting for emergency services she went back into the home to save Roberts’ dog.

Brittany was home alone while Roberts was attending a potlatch in Haines Junction, Miller said.

There have been no estimates yet on the damages, but for Roberts and her family, there is no way to put a number on what is now gone.

“She’s lost everything,” said Blackjack. “Pictures of her kids growing up. Pictures of her grandkids. Everybody she’s been with through her life. All those kinds of things are gone. All her beading and sewing stuff is gone. Her moose skin, her canvas.”

Roberts was preparing for the town’s craft bazaar this Thursday.

Her table, filled with traditional sewing and beading – like mitts and slippers, is a mainstay each year.

“Sewing is her life,” said Blackjack. “That’s how she makes an income.”

Along with sewing and beading, Roberts lives a very active and traditional life, Blackjack added.

She is one of less than a handful of elders in Carmacks who still speak their traditional language – and teaches it as well, said Blackjack.

“She knows everything about our culture and is trying to make a positive future for the community,” said Blackjack.

“She’s a pillar of the community. When anything happens, she’s right there. She’s there to help guide people and when anybody needs help, she’s right there. And she’s there for other towns and elders – she’s always going and visiting.”

The fact Roberts was visiting another community when the fire occurred was actually a positive thing, said Miller, explaining she was surrounded by friends and family and had support when the news came in.

A basket was passed around and about $2,500 was collected, he said.

Roberts’ family is organizing a fundraiser for Saturday, December 10. There is no entry fee, but donations will be accepted all night. There will also be a silent auction and entertainment. Any donations for the auction and people able to perform are also needed, said Blackjack.

“We’re trying to rebuild,” she said.

The incident is even more upsetting considering Roberts suffered another fire last winter, which demolished her shed, said Miller.

Currently, Brittany and Roberts have been given a house by the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation and the community is doing their best to keep her spirits up, said Blackjack.

“She’s ‘Grandma May’ to everyone in the community,” said Miller.

And for a woman who always puts family first, that’s saying something, added Blackjack.

The fundraiser will go from 5 to 10 p.m. on December 10 in the Carmacks Recreation Centre’s gym.

Please call Ragene Blackjack at 863-5789, Julie Anderson at 667-7800 or leave a message at 863-5831, if you’d like to perform, volunteer or give a donation.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at