Soldiers practise evacuating Whitehorse subdivisions

An evacuation drill of Whitehorse subdivisions happened Wednesday night as part of Operation Nanook emergency preparedness exercises this week.

Exercise part of Op Nanook emergency-preparedness drills

Whitehorse homeowner Suzanne McDonald greets soldiers on her doorstep as part of an Op Nanook evacuation drill. (Brian Boyle/CBC)

An evacuation of two Whitehorse subdivisions went off without a hitch Wednesday night and no one actually had to leave their homes.

The evacuation drill was part of Operation Nanook emergency preparedness exercises underway in Whitehorse this week. 

About 40 soldiers and at least a dozen emergency responders tested the logistics of emptying rural neighbourhoods in advance of a raging forest fire.

The military arrived on yellow school buses armed with radios and maps. Their mission was to go door to door and hand out pamphlets.

Cpl. Danny Masse said residents were universally polite although some were shocked to find soldiers on their doorsteps and thought there was a real emergency. 

"One woman was telling us ‘Give us five minutes and we're gonna go,’" he said. "We said ‘It's OK. It’s only an exercise."

Area resident Suzanne McDonald said the wildfire evacuation exercise was useful for all involved.

"Especially after the Slave Lake thing a few years ago, I think it's important that we do this here," she said.

Maj. Andre St. Amant said in a real evacuation it could take about twice as long for the soldiers to contact every household in the subdivisions. (Brian Boyle/CBC)

The soldiers were able to contact most of the residents within an hour and a half. However Maj. Andre St. Amant cautioned it could take longer with a real evacuation.

"It would take at least three hours," he said. "You can double the time on each house."  

Operation Nanook exercises continue Thursday with a mass casualty simulation at the Whitehorse hospital.

Soldiers help make trail

Soldiers with Operation Nanook also helped out Wednesday with building a trail connecting Copper Ridge to the Mount MacIntyre recreation area.

Trail crew co-ordinator Jane Keopke said 20 soldiers helped local volunteers working to cut a trail through the steep, heavily wooded slopes covered in moss.

Pte. Michael Lombardi said the soldiers were glad to help.

"It's what we do for a living — work hard and have fun," he said. "And it's all about teamwork."

City trail crew member Alex Sokolon said the extra muscle means the trail should now be done two weeks ahead of schedule.