Indigenous

'We've got one hell of a fire in a really bad place': Alkali Lake fire hits Telegraph Creek

A wildfire burning in Tahltan territory in northern B.C. has reached the community of Telegraph Creek, taking out structures in its path and leaving evacuees on edge.

Tahltan Chief Rick McLean says 27 structures lost to wildfire

The Alkali Lake fire has reached the community of Telegraph Creek, destroying dozens of structures. (Trina Anne Gleason-Zubek)

A wildfire burning in Tahltan territory in northern B.C. has reached the community of Telegraph Creek, taking out structures in its path and leaving evacuees and those with connections to the community on edge.

The community was ordered to evacuate on Sunday.

Julien Dusseque stayed behind during the evacuation along with two other men, boating people's belongings and pets to safety and setting up sprinklers to protect buildings.

The men managed to make about 20 boat rides back and forth between Telegraph Creek and Glenora, about 17 km south of the community along the Stikine River.

But by Tuesday morning it was clear their safety would be in jeopardy if they didn't leave.

"We stayed in downtown Telegraph Creek until we heard explosions over town and the power went off, and then ash and embers were flying all over us," he said.

"So that's when we decided to pull out because we would be risking our lives there."

Dusseque said the three men left in the pitch black, travelling along the river back to Glenora with the river banks on fire, partially lighting the way.

The Alkali Lake fire has been burning in northern B.C. for almost a week and is now about 7,800 hectares in size. It is one of several active fires in the area. The South Stikine River fire is just east of the Alkali Lake fire and is an estimated 6,000 hecatres in size.  

Tahltan Chief Rick McLean gave an update to community members in Dease Lake on Tuesday morning, alongside fire officials Hugh Murdoch and Tony Falco.

"What we're dealing with here, it is an act of nature that's very powerful, much akin to… a tornado or a hurricane. We are very limited to what we can do," said Falco, deputy fire centre manager, during the community update.

"We've got one hell of a fire in a really bad place," said Murdoch, a forest protection officer.

The latest update from the B.C. Wildfire Service said the fire remains aggressive. There are 78 firefighters deployed to the area, along with nine helicopters and more than a dozen pieces of heavy equipment.

Tahltan Chief Rick McLean broke the news to community members about the extent of the damage so far.

"As of this morning we're looking at 27 structures now lost in Telegraph so we're looking at 35-40 per cent structural loss there right now," said McLean.

He didn't have more specific information about which structures were affected by the wildfire. But the most important detail, he said, was there's been no loss of life.

"We are resilient, we're going to lean on each other and we're going to try to continue to fight the fight as best we can."

Donations for evacuees

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from the area since Sunday. Most are staying in Dease Lake, about 100 km northeast of Telegraph Creek, or in Iskut, about 60 km east. Others have made a much longer trip to stay in Terrace, about 400 km south.

Updates on evacuation alerts and orders for the area are being posted by the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine, which has declared a local state of emergency. 

Donations for evacuees are being collected at locations across B.C. and in Yukon. Among the items being requested are dry goods, toiletries, food staples, dishes, clothing and diapers. Full details about donations can be found on the Telegraph Creek Fires Facebook page.

The Tahltan Central Government is also collecting cash donations.

"Our staff is working around the clock, both within our territory and the surrounding urban communities, to assist our people in any way we can," the central government said in a Facebook statement on Monday. 

Shirley Quash is staying with family in Dease Lake. She was born and raised in Telegraph Creek and has learned her house was destroyed and the house of her late parents.

"We're just so devastated… we have nowhere to go," she said.

Without knowing what happens next, Quash said she's grateful for all the support that's coming in.

"We've had so many people praying for us and providing meals for us. It's overwhelming in a good way," she said.

For the latest wildfire information, visit:

B.C. Wildfire Service 

Emergency Info B.C. 

With files from Robert Doane

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