Families who fled historically-devastating wildfires in the Telegraph Creek, B.C. area over the past summer will be able to start returning home later this month, it was announced Monday.
Last August, wildfires decimated the Tahltan territory, with all residents of Telegraph Creek forced to leave.
The Telegraph Creek community lost 21 homes, two businesses and several community buildings to the massive 120,000-hectare blaze.
More than 160 structures were destroyed in the region, which included historical structures and fish camps near and dear to the Tahltan Nation.
“The EOC has been working tirelessly to make a return to Telegraph Creek possible,” said Feddie Louie, the Tahltan Emergency Operations Centre director and recovery manager.
“A plan is now in place for evacuees to return to Telegraph Creek beginning November 15th, and we hope to have all evacuees back home by December 20th.
The specific return date will depend on when each home has been cleaned of smoke damage and refurbished.”
Chief Rick McLean of the Tahltan Band said he is 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,” he said.
“I am overwhelmed by the love and support the Tahltan Nation has received. Thank you to all volunteers, donors and to those who have assisted.”
Jane Philpott, the federal minister of Indigenous Services, spoke about the extent of the loss when she visited Tahltan Territory in October. She wrote on her Facebook page on Oct. 18:
“Tahltan Nation itself incurred the worst structural damage caused by wildfires of any First Nations community in recorded Canadian history. Thankfully there was no loss of life.”
Upon hearing the news of the upcoming return of families and community members to Telegraph Creek, Philpott commended the chief of the Tahltan Band and the resilience of the Tahltan community:
“It is wonderful news that families and community members will soon be able to return to Telegraph Creek following the devastation that the community experienced as a result of the wildfires this summer,” the minister said.
“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. Today’s news is another testament to the strength and resilience of the Tahltan people.”
McLean and his team at the Tahltan EOC have been working closely with all levels of government to make a return to Telegraph Creek possible.
“I also cannot say enough good things about minister Philpott and her staff for all th support we have received from the federal government,” the chief said.
“We genuinely appreciate the minister’s effort to come to our territory and visit Telegraph Creek to witness the devastation first-hand.
“It really wouldn’t have been possible to begin re-entry on November 15th 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.”