The Whitehorse Star, January 3, 1991
BITTER ELEMENTS HAD FIREFIGHTERS RESEMBLING MOBILE ICE SCULPTURES
by Chuck Tobin
Most of the 20 or so firefighters were free to leave the Saan clothing store fire scene and escape the -43 degree temperatures by early Wednesday evening. But at least two men have been on the site around the clock applying water to the ruins.
The result is an abstract pile of ice where Wednesday stood one of the largest clothing outlets in the territory.
For Bob Jacobs, a member of the Whitehorse fire department for 26 years, cold-weather firefighting is at best "miserable."
"The most difficult aspect, I guess, is the care you have to use to do anything because everything is so slippery," Jacobs said in an interview this morning.
"It's miserable because you are wearing so much gear, and any water that gets on you closes you up like a suit of armour."
Every available firefighter in Whitehorse was called to the outbreak, except for those required to stay at the two stations in case of another blaze elsewhere.
The plume of smoke from the fire was thick and dark, and normally would have been noticed from one end of the city to the other. As it was, the ice fog kept the inferno hidden to all but those within a block of Second Avenue and Ogilvie Street.
Firefighters were transformed into mobile ice sculptures. The ground was blanketed in soot-covered pellets, formed by the rising heat mixing with the moisture of the ice fog and then raining down as little iceballs.
"But after that, you start to lose heat and notice the cold."
Jacobs said every available pair of mitts at both stations were used at the scene.
"It's hard because you have to wear mitts, but sometimes you have to do something and you need you hands free. After a while, your mitts get iced up and you can't move them. You don't need the fresh mitts so much to keep your hands warm, but to keep them flexible."
Whitehorse fire Chief Brian Monahan has yet to put together a cost for battling the blaze. Extra manpower was needed, as well as equipment like a front-end loader brought in to push back the front wall that dropped across the sidewalk.
The equipment, he said, was back in service shortly after it was returned to the station early in the evening.
Second Avenue and Ogilvie Street remained open for about the first half-hour, until about 1 p.m. They were closed as the fire worsened and crews laid down more and more hose lines.
"For the first couple of hours, you are working so physically hard you really do not notice the cold as much because you are burning off large amounts of energy," said Jacobs.