What remains of Tahltan Village near Telegraph Creek. (Jane Philpott Facebook photo)

Telegraph Creek evacuees to start returning home next week

Area residents, who evacuated in August due to wildfires, will be able to return starting Nov. 15

Telegraph Creek evacuees will be allowed to return home starting next week, three months after wildfires tore through the area and forced residents of the community and surrounding area to flee.

The Tahltan Band Council made the announcement in a press release Nov. 5.

The plan is to have evacuees begin to return starting Nov. 15 with the hope of having everyone back home by Dec. 20, Tahltan Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) director and recovery manager Feddie Louie said in the press release.

“The EOC has been working tirelessly to make a return to Telegraph Creek possible,” Louie said. “… The specific return date will depend on when each home has been cleaned of smoke damage and refurbished.”

Telegraph Creek residents as well as residents from nearby communities have been displaced since early August, when authorities in British Columbia issued an evacuation order as wildfires burned dangerously nearby.

The massive blaze would end up growing to 120,000 hectares in size, destroying 27 buildings in Telegraph Creek including 21 homes, two businesses, a daycare and a church. In total, more than 160 structures have been lost in the area, including fish camps, historical sites, grave sites and seasonal cottages.

Following a visit to Tahltan territory in October, federal Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott wrote on Facebook that Tahltan Nation had “incurred the worst structural damage caused by wildfires of any First Nations community in recorded Canadian history.”

Yukoners have been rallying to support evacuees, with community members holding donation drives to gather clothing, supplies and food for residents awaiting the evacuation order to be lifted. In September, two nights of “Tahltan Strong” fundraising concerts in Whitehorse raised more than $86,000 in support for recovery efforts.

The Nov. 5 press release said that Tahltan Band Chief Rick McLean was “overwhelmed with gratitude for the support the Tahltan Nation has received.”

“One of the things that I have learned is that you really see the true colours of people during a crisis. I am overwhelmed by the love and support the Tahltan Nation has received,” he said. “Thank you to all volunteers, donors and to those who have assisted.”

McLean also thanked Philpott and the federal government for their support.

“We genuinely appreciate the Minister’s effort to come to our territory and visit Telegraph Creek to witness the devastation first hand,” he said. “It really wouldn’t have been possible to begin re-entry on (Nov. 15) without our partnership with the Federal Government, who really stepped up to help meet our communities needs and get our people home as soon as possible.”

In the press release, Philpott said it was “wonderful news” that residents will be able to return home soon.

“Chief Rick McLean and his team have shown remarkable leadership in the face of this tragedy and our government continues to actively support the community in their recovery and rebuilding,” she said. “Today’s news is another testament to the strength and resilience of the Tahltan people.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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