A Stewart Crossing woman has been left homeless and without most of her belongings — including irreplaceable family heirlooms — after a fire on May 3 destroyed the house her father built in the ‘70s. The fire also set the nearby forest ablaze.
In an interview May 6, Effie Moses, 64, said that the loss of her home and all the memories it contained felt like losing her father, First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun elder David “Little Dave” Moses, all over again.
“There was a lot of history that burnt down,” Moses, who’s currently staying in Mayo, said on the phone.
“… A lot of stuff went up in smoke.”
The losses, Moses said, include drums and silver-and-moose-bone knives made by her father, regalia that he had passed down to her, beadwork and slippers made by her mother, photos of her father taken throughout his life, her father’s accordion, and old books.
There’s also the significance of the house itself – Moses’s father had built it himself and lived in it for “40-something years, before land claims started,” until his death in 2011. Moses herself had moved in in 2007, when her father was in his 90s, to help him, and most recently, had three of her grandchildren living with her too.
No one was hurt in the blaze, and Moses’s two dogs also managed to escape the site unharmed.
Mayo Volunteer Fire Department Chief Trevor Ellis confirmed in an interview May 6 that everything on-site, including four smaller structures surrounding the house, had been levelled by the fire, which started sometime between 2:30 p.m., when Moses left to go to Mayo, and just before 5:30 p.m., when the fire department was called.
By the time a crew arrived on scene, the majority of the still-burning house had already collapsed into the basement, Ellis said. He recalled seeing the burnt-out shells of skidoos on scene but nothing that could really be saved, and put in a call to Yukon Wildland Fire Management in case the flames spread to the surrounding forest.
Wildland Fire spokesperson Mike Fancie confirmed that two three-person wildland fire crews responded to the scene and that the fire did spread to the surrounding bush. It burned 0.25 hectares, Fancie said in a phone interview May 6, and while still active, has since been brought under control.
Wildland Fire has deployed sprinkler kits at the scene to “mitigate the threat” and to keep an eye on the situation, he said.
According to Ellis, the cause of the fire, although not yet determined, is not believed to be suspicious, and was likely caused by something like a chimney fire.
Moses also said that the blaze could have been sparked by a chimney fire — her house did not have electric heat and the oil heating was unreliable, so she relied primarily on her wood stove.
She said that she had made a fire earlier that day and, before leaving, had “turned it down low” to keep the house warm in case she wasn’t there overnight.
Regardless of the cause though, Moses said she plans to clean and rebuild on the site once firefighters have cleared the scene, because “traditionally, my dad’s stuff has been around there for quite a long time and it’s like family land, like a family inheritance.”
While she said she expects she’ll need help from her First Nation and from the community to do that, the site is where she feels at home.
“I would like to rebuild on the land where I belong, in Stewart Crossing,” she said.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org