Yellowknife evacuees Bill Pain, left, Carrie Young and Pete Cott all expressed gratitude for the assistance they received from friends and strangers alike after arriving in the Yukon. (Jim Elliot/Yukon News)

Yellowknife evacuees Bill Pain, left, Carrie Young and Pete Cott all expressed gratitude for the assistance they received from friends and strangers alike after arriving in the Yukon. (Jim Elliot/Yukon News)

Yellowknife evacuees grateful for assistance from Whitehorse community

A small group of evacuees from the Northwest Territories’ capital are staying in the Yukon

Relief is the one word summing up the feelings of the small group of Yellowknife evacuees who arrived in Whitehorse after leaving the Northwest Territories’ capital.

Relief from the stress of encroaching wildfires, relief from smoke-filled air and relief that they have been welcomed with open arms by friends and strangers alike in the Yukon.

Among the evacuees is Bill Pain who flew to Whitehorse with his wife, two children and two dogs from Yellowknife shortly after residents of the city were given three days to leave on Aug. 16.

“It was panicked,” Pain said of the mood in Yellowknife as the evacuation order came down.

He noted that N.W.T. residents had recently seen the worst-case scenario as 90 per cent of the hamlet of Enterprise was destroyed by one of the wildfires still burning there. Living near Yellowknife’s airport, Pain recounted the constant noise of water bombers and helicopters coming and going in the days before the evacuation.

The N.W.T. capital is one of several communities in the territory that is either evacuated or has just recently allowed residents to return.

Pain’s family paid $150 each for their Air North tickets to Whitehorse. They travelled on a regularly scheduled flight that had stopped in Yellowknife on its way from Toronto to Whitehorse. Pain said the airline was very helpful accepting their dogs and getting them booked onto a flight. He said the price was also reasonable when compared to what other airlines flying south were charging.

“People were willing to pay anything. Like, just get my family out of here, I’ll pay $7,000 to get down there, whatever. So good on them for doing that,” he said of the comparatively inexpensive flight.

Dozens of free evacuation flights, some on commercial carriers and some on Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft, bound for Alberta and Manitoba also left the city between Aug. 17 and 20.

Once on the ground in the Yukon, Pain was able to find a place for himself and his family to stay via a distant connection. He said he contacted the breeder of one of his dogs and after a brief hotel stay, they were invited to use a travel trailer on the breeder’s friend’s brother’s property for as long as they needed to.

“We’re still basically strangers. That connection of the connection of the connection. They didn’t know anything about us and I still almost get emotional thinking about it,” Pain said of being given a place to stay.

A place to stay isn’t the only way Pain and his family were helped.

He says he and his family were fed by the people whose property they’re staying on, a vet checked out one of his dogs for free and Icycle Sports loaned him and his kids bikes to use.

Information Pain received suggests that few evacuees came to the Yukon compared to the thousands who headed south to Alberta. Some have been flown to Winnipeg as resources in the Alberta cities become strained.

This is Pain’s family’s first time in the Yukon. He’s trying to make the most out of it to make the experience easier on his kids.

Also from Yellowknife and staying in Whitehorse are Pete Cott and Carrie Young. They drove south out of Yellowknife shortly after the decision was made to evacuate the city. Young described setting up a sprinkler system on her roof before leaving. Beyond that and packing a few final items though, most preparations to leave had already been made.

Cott said the drive south went fairly smoothly as the group of vehicles he and Young were driving in passed through a few much-needed rainstorms. He said fuel depots had been set up along the route in order to ensure vehicles could keep moving.

Cott and Young reached Fort Nelson, British Columbia the evening after leaving Yellowknife. They turned west, bound for Whitehorse the next morning rather than heading into Alberta. The decision to head to the Yukon was made because they had friends and a place to stay here. They also assumed the Alberta cities with evacuation centres would be chaotic in the hours after thousands of evacuees arrived.

Now staying at a friend’s cabin on Lake Laberge, Cott and Young said they are breathing easier both figuratively and literally as they enjoy air that is much cleaner than the smoke-grey skies they left behind in the N.W.T.

Both Cott and Young noted that they had received numerous concerned messages and offers of assistance from friends and family since the evacuation began.

“We’re all in a fortunate situation that we’re able to, to evacuate our own power. But still, it’s just nice to have people just helping all over the place. And, yeah, we’ve got no end of places to stay now,” Cott said

Pain, Young and Cott all recognized that the situation would be more stressful for people with less means and that they are fortunate to be where they are rather than in one of the evacuation centres.

Although the Yukon has had a severe fire season of its own this year, Cott feels fortunate to be here and not under threat of evacuation. He recounted a story from a co-worker who had left for southern B.C. ahead of the Yellowknife evacuation in search of cleaner air only to be evacuated from where she was staying there.

Pain said the official messaging suggests it’s going to be weeks until people can return to Yellowknife en masse and a phased return will probably be necessary to allow essential services to be restored in the city.

Recent communication from the N.W.T. wildfire service suggests the nearest fire is being held by crews about 15 kilometres from Yellowknife. Information provided July 24 suggested the fire would be kept out of the outskirts of the city for at least the next 72 hours.

-With files from James McCarthy, NNSL

Contact Jim Elliot at