The territory has pitched in to help those who were forced to evacuate their homes earlier this month because of wildfires in Telegraph Creek, B.C. by opening a reception centre in Whitehorse.
Friday morning’s opening came a day after the province of B.C. requested that the Yukon provide emergency social services support to those impacted.
The centre will be able to co-ordinate non-medical survival needs, family reunification, manage inquiries and co-ordinate alternative shelter for domestic pets.
That’s according to a news release issued last Thursday which also noted that the centre is not prepared to accept the public’s donation at this time.
Housed at Vanier Catholic Secondary School in Riverdale, the centre is staffed by a number of Yukon government employees, including some from the Department of Health and Social Services. (HSS).
John Coyne, a manager at the risk management branch with HSS, was on hand Friday and said the centre could also help co-ordinate housing needs.
“We have a lot of very close family connections with Telegraph Creek,” Coyne said, noting that some displaced residents “are staying with friends and family in supportive housing.”
Michael Edwards, a communications analyst with HSS, confirmed this morning that the centre did see residents who were displaced by the fire over the weekend.
“We were able to provide support” to those who requested it, he said, and the centre will continue to remain operational as the days progress.
As of noon Sunday, the number of registered residents who filtered through the centre over the weekend sat at about 15, Emergency Management BC said this morning.
“Most of the people registered at the Whitehorse reception centre are staying in private accommodations, with two staying in commercial accommodation,” a spokesperson wrote today.
Coyne continued to encourage those who have made their way to the territory from B.C. to register at the centre, which may provide psychosocial services, clothing, child-minding, food and information about the fires.
“We have the capacity in the Yukon to accommodate in various forms several hundred people,” he added, noting that can mean 300 to 400 people.
It will keep an eye on whether extra supports or space are needed through contact with partners of mutual aid providers, including the Yukon Emergency Medical Services.
Meanwhile, Tourism and Culture Minister Jeanie Dendys returned from Telegraph Creek early last week after visiting the area for its annual music festival.
After arriving there on Aug. 2, she recalled the notice officially coming down a couple days later, over the Aug. 4-5 weekend.
“By that time, we had already mobilized all the people that would need extra assistance to get out of the community,” she told the Star this morning, noting that she chose to stay to help her sister, a health director in the area.
The community holds a special place in the minister’s heart, with her mother born and raised there.
“That’s my nation, the Tahltan Nation,” she said.
“Even if you’ve never lived a day in your life, you will always consider Telegraph Creek your home if you’re Tahltan.”
Noting that the air quality was fairly clear during her four days there, Dendys thanked the responders and community for a “co-ordinated effort” to guide residents to nearby areas like Terrace, Dease Lake and Iskut.
Dendys noted that while the Yukon area has been home to a number of historic fires, she has never seen anything like this.
“Certainly in my lifetime, I’ve only known Telegraph Creek the way it was: the most pristine, beautiful area that you would ever see.”
She continued that she is also grateful for a benefit concert that may be in the works for September: “Music is a really important part of the Tahltan culture, and so many of our people are musicians.
“So I’m hoping the fire will be more under control by that time.”
The efforts to get the reception centre running are the result of YG workers and the Northwest Provincial Regional Emergency Operations Centre in Terrace, B.C.
It is in Terrace where some of the 250 evacuees went, along with Dease Lake, where a public meeting was held last week.
A crew of Yukon firefighters is helping in the efforts, travelling down last week as part of the Charlie Crew, which is managed by the Ta’an Kwächän Council. More may go to the area later this week.
Local business owner Alison Pakula, who owns and runs Alligator’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese, took donations last week. Such items as dry goods and toiletries were trucked to the area.
The centre, meanwhile, is not set up to take donations yet, but the territorial government announced Friday it would be providing $25,000 in support of residents.
“I know that many Yukoners have strong connections to the Telegraph Creek area and are already doing everything they can to help,” said Premier Sandy Silver, thanking the firefighters and emergency personnel for their efforts, in a release.
“Our hearts are with our B.C. neighbours as they go through this devastating experience.”
“Our government has been very responsive, which I am grateful for,” Dendys added.
Multiple areas had been evacuated after two wildfires in the northern part of the province blended into one: the Alkali Lake fire connected with the South Stikine River blaze near Telegraph Creek.
A release on the YG donation noted that the Tahltan Central Government is also accepting email transfers after residents of the area were removed on Aug. 5.
The Whitehorse centre will remain open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to offer supports seven days a week until further notice.
A Facebook page notes that a Tahltan Strong benefit concert will be held at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre beginning at 5 p.m. on Sept. 20.
It will feature performances by Kevin Barr and Andy Nieman, and accept cash donations as well as things like clothing, toiletries, towels and winter gear.
See roundup of Yukon wildfires.