Community leaders offer support to wildfire evacuees from Mayo, Yukon

Good neighbours always look out for each other.

That is why community leaders in Dawson City, Yukon, as well as the Village of Carmacks, and Whitehorse, have stepped up to offer support to residents of Mayo, Yukon, after that community was put under an evacuation order on Sunday afternoon because of wildfire.

As of Monday, the Talbot Creek fire was about four kilometres from Mayo.

In Carmacks, approximately 168 kilometres from Mayo, Mayor Lee Bodie said he got a call from Little Salmon Carmacks Chief Nicole Tom as well as Yukon Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn, about the evacuation underway.

“I said we have a big rec centre here, and an arena that we can utilize,” Bodie said.

“I contacted my CAO and said, ‘do we have a bus available, and how many working vehicles can we muster together to help the people of Mayo evacuate?'”

‘We’ll do anything in our power to be able to help,’ said Carmacks Mayor Lee Bodie. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Bodie said he and Chief Tom waited to hear back about initiating a plan regarding their rec centre until finally Bodie saw the Yukon Government was advising evacuees to head to the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse instead.

“They were better able to help the people than we were, because we don’t have the cots or the bedding facilities for so many people,” Bodie said.

Still, the mayor said Carmacks is ready to help out any way it can.

“We’ll do anything in our power to be able to help,” he told CBC News. “We’re all one big family. They’re a part of the First Nation Northern Tutchone, so there’s a lot of family and friends coming through — so yeah, we’ll work out something and help as much as we can.”

Dawson City Mayor Bill Kendrick has also extended his community’s support to Mayo residents. Dawson is about 181 kilometres from Mayo.

“I’ve extended the offer to [Mayo] Mayor [Trevor] Ellis,” he said. “Should the City of Dawson be able to help, I’m sure that Dawsonites are prepared to step up to help in any way we can.”

A smiling man standing outside
Dawson City Mayor Bill Kendrick said he’s ‘sure that Dawsonites are prepared to step up.’ (Sarah Xenos/CBC)

At the time the evacuation notice was issued, the North Klondike Highway was closed between Stewart Crossing, Yukon, and the Dempster Corner as wildland firefighters responded to another fire at Gravel Lake.

“The highway was closed…so we couldn’t take evacuees in,” Kendrick said. “You know, fingers crossed that Mayo gets out of this OK.”

Kwanlin Dün opens up potlatch house

Emergency officials said on Monday morning that so far, 124 evacuees had registered with emergency support services, and more were expected to do so through the day as they arrived in Whitehorse, 323 kilometres south of Mayo. Some evacuees were being put up in local hotels, and the Canada Games Centre was also being prepared as a potential emergency shelter for Mayo residents. 

Sean Smith, chief of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation in Whitehorse, told CBC News that he was at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse when he knew he needed to help.

“I saw 80- to 90-year-old elders come walking in,” he said. “I looked at those army cots, I thought about the comfort of those elders.”

That is when Smith made the call to open up the the Nàkwät’à Kų̀ Potlatch House to serve people food, and create a welcoming, comfortable environment.

A smiling man stands beside a river.
‘Our people learned from our elders of how we took care of one another,’ said Sean Smith, chief of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation in Whitehorse. (Sean Smith/Facebook)

Smith told CBC News that the Kwanlin Dün First Nation will continue to support Na-Cho Nyäk Dun citizens from Mayo during this time, and as long as it takes until they can return home.

“Our people learned from our elders of how we took care of one another,” he said.

“When you boil it down, we’re made up of families. Those families worked and wanted to help one another through the good times and through the hard times. Those are important things that we still continue.”

Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Chief Dawna Hope said she was already in Whitehorse on Sunday when she was notified of the evacuation order.

“I was preparing to go back to Mayo yesterday,” she told CBC News on Monday.

“It was kind of a shock at first, and then of course I was concerned about the chaos … the trauma they would have been experiencing in gathering up in such short notice.”

Hope said she spent her Sunday at the Canada Games Centre welcoming evacuees arriving from her community.

She said she assumes between 300 and 400 people have left Mayo. Emergency officials said Monday about 450 people were subject to the evacuation order. 

a map
The Talbot Creek fire was around 4 kilometres south of Mayo on Monday. (Yukon Wildland Fire Management)

Hope said because of the hospitality shown by Yukoners, no evacuees had to stay overnight at the Canada Games Centre on Sunday.

“We were able to find accommodations for everyone,” she said. “No one stayed on cots. They were able to find rooms.”

“We can’t thank everybody enough, who have sent offers of support, accommodations, food, the supports to house pets, livestock and everything else. For anyone who’s asked to help, we sincerely appreciate the offer and we will keep you posted.”

Hope said her First Nation is working together with community partners on a return plan for when it is deemed safe to do so. She hopes to be home within the next few days.

Wildfire officials said on Monday that it was difficult to predict when residents might be able to return home.

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