People and supplies are moving to Telegraph Creek by air, following the April 14 closure of the only road to the community due to a washout.
Several mining companies have donated helicopter flights to help keep the isolated community supplied while the main washout and other localized slides and creek breaches are dealt with.
“We truly appreciate it, our people truly appreciate it,” said Tahltan Band Chief Carmen McPhee. “We don’t have road access but everybody’s morale is still up and our people are still happy.”
Newcrest Mining Ltd. donated passenger, fuel and grocery flights using two helicopters from Klee Cho Aviation Inc., a Tahltan-held joint venture with Yellowhead Helicopters. On April 18 and 19, a helicopter moved 35 community members stuck on the Dease Lake side of the washout, supplies, mail and pets from the Dease Lake airport to the Telegraph Creek airstrip.
Cargo was unloaded from a Bandstra semi-truck in Dease Lake, before being re-packed, weighed and moved by truck to kilometre 58 on the Telegraph Creek road. That allowed for a shorter distance for the supplies to be slung by helicopter.
Another company, Skeena Resources, used Silver King Helicopters Inc. to transport fuel to the community over the span of three days, ending on April 22. The Tahltan Nation Development Corporation constructed a berm at kilometre 61 of the road for use as a staging area. Fuel was trailered to that location by Northwest Fuels and then taken by helicopter sling to the Tahltan Centre Grocery Store where Stikine River Expediting transferred and pumped the fuel.
And a third company, Newmont Corporation, has hired Alkan Air to transport groceries, medicine and mail by fixed wing aircraft next week. It has not been possible to use fixed wing aircraft thus far because the airstrip has been too wet.
Those wet conditions, coupled with a lack of vegetation due to wildfires in 2018 have created the perfect recipe for washouts and slides.
A spell of warm weather in the area has been quickly melting the heavy snowpack. In 2018, wildfires burned around 120,000 hectares in the area, meaning that there is little foliage to slow the movement of melting snow and water.
“It’s not common to be be this bad, the forest fire did do a lot of damage, there’s no vegetation, there’s no trees that are able to be able to soak up all this extra water.” McPhee said.
Since the washout, there have been instances of other localized localized slides and creek breaches daily, including a slide in Telegraph Creek itself, blocking access to some residences which are not currently occupied.
Residents of Telegraph Creek were already hauling snow out of the community to mitigate risks before the washout happened. Three excavators and three gravel trucks were already on the Telegraph Creek side of the washout, which McPhee said was fortunate because they are able to keep working on the slides in and around the community.
Newcrest Mining has offered to let operators from Telegraph Creek come home to help and bolster the already capable people in the area.
“With the fire that we had, all our people are trained and ready to go, knowing what to do and we’re very fortunate to have a good crew here,” McPhee said.
“We’re very fortunate for Tahltan people to have lots of operators and we have lots of versatile people who are able to wear different hats.”
According to McPhee, the road could re-open by Monday, April 26, but that is an optimistic timeline. She said that the worst-case scenario for the road to re-open is the end of the month, but the situation is changing daily.