Photo by Whitehorse Star
Photo by Whitehorse Star
The small community of Pelly Crossing, 150 miles north of Whitehorse, has been evacuated as a fire of about 50 square miles swept to within a mile of the town. Women and children were bussed to Mayo and Elsa where they are being kept while men from the district are battling the blaze.
At last report, the flames had reached a fire break cut around the community but it was not known whether fire fighters were able to contain it there. If it were to jump the fire break, the entire community would almost surely go up in smoke. Population of Pelly is about 150. A fire Friday night, completely destroyed the new townsite of Faro, being constructed on the banks of the Pelly River for employees of Anvil Mine, 12 miles away.
A B-25 Mitchell bomber arrived to battle the Porter Creek-Crestview fire that threatened those two communities Friday and a second one is on the way to help fight fires in the Watson Lake district. It is to arrive later today.
Forestry director John Gass said there are at least 15 fires burning throughout the Watson Lake district but as yet no settlement has been endangered. There are 11 fires in the Ross River area but communication with that area is confusing and there may be more.
He said as far as he knew there were no threats to settlements there. Fires also burn in the Little Salmon country and around Teslin, Boswell River, and Rosie Lake River.
There’s even one burning up in the mountains near Watson, Mr. Gass said. “It must be burning rocks and snow.” Another area under siege is north east of Livingston Creek.
Communication is not good, regarding another blaze, believed to be serious, along the Canol Road at about Mile 17. Seven other fires are reported contained in other areas of the territory but forestry officials say their resources are being stretched beyond their limits.
Chemicals are being flown in to the Whitehorse area by the second Mitchell in an attempt to snuff the Crestview and Porter Creek fire still smoldering and posing a real threat to the area yet.
Forestry officials have closed down 15 recreation roads and traffic is not being allowed past Carmacks, 40 miles south of Pelly Crossing. Flames are burning along both sides of the Klondike Highway to within a few hundred years of the road.
Throughout, fire officials and police are depending on volunteers to fight the fires.
“This whole territory is going up in flames unless we get some rain or a break in this hot, dry spell,” one forestry official commented. “Another week and we’re in real trouble.”
Meanwhile, the weather man holds out no hope of rain in the immediate future. He said Whitehorse and district are getting the westerly edge of a storm that is sweeping into Alaska but it is extremely unlikely that any of this moisture will move into the Yukon.
The Porter Creek - Crestview fire started about noon Friday, June 13th and almost destroyed the subdivision four miles west of Whitehorse. Only the quick action of individuals and businesses working in cooperation with the Yukon Forest Services, saved the day. The fire is contained today, but is still being water bombed by a Mitchell bomber.
What caused the Porter Creek fire is not known but by Friday afternoon it had covered 600-700 acres on the south side of the Alaska Highway. Within three hours 25 bulldozers, offered by the federal and territorial governments, by construction and mining companies and by private individuals were on the scene. Roads and firebreaks were slashed through this heavily wooded area, helicopters and private planes circled above and radioed directions, and over 150 men went to work fire fighting.
At 4:00 p.m. a light wind sprang up and it looked for awhile as if Crestview, one mile further west, was going to be overtaken. A notice to evacuate went out and a score of families left Crestview for the homes of friends in Whitehorse, but most families stayed.
Porter Creek has over a thousand people and about 30 houses were threatened along the highway Friday. Fire came within 500 yards of a new motel, the Porter Creek Lodge, being built by Joe Urbanowski. Bulldozers worked in the woods behind his property and that, together with a change in the wind, saved Joe’s motel.
The firefighters were made up of a motley-looking gang of heavy duty operators, forestry people, Indians and white schoolboys, many with long hair hanging out under their hard hats.
Fire marshal Tom Nairn said the excellent communications and the number of volunteers who turned out saved the day. A Mitchell fire bomber twin-engined aircraft started work Saturday and is still dumping water on the close-to-Whitehorse fire. It carries a thousand gallons a trip and makes the circuit every ten minutes. The aircraft requires too long a landing strip to be used anywhere in the territory except at Whitehorse and Watson Lake.
There were two fires at Faro, the town being built on the shores of the Pelly River twelve miles from Anvil mine.
The first started right in the townsite Thursday midnight and took out 500 feet of powerline. It was fought by construction workers who had it under control enough for Forestry people to take over the next day. It flared up again at 2:30 to 3 p.m. Friday and was checked right away.
Then, that night, a fire started two and a half miles northwest of Faro, started , it was reported by lightning. It descended on Faro racing through the town and there was no saving it. Some of the men went to help protect Anvil mine, 12 miles away. Others spent the night on the south side of the Pelly River Bridge. A small amount of heavy equipment was brought across the river and saved.
But back at Faro, 50 dwellings in various stages of construction were leveled by the flame.
The Campco catering company of Vancouver which services construction crews at Anvil and Faro, lost five of its nine trailer units, the kitchen, commissary and recreation room.
Two diesel engines which supplied power in the area were destroyed, but some propane tanks did not explode and are intact, according to reports.
The Northern Canada Power Commission’s brand new transmission lines, which had been supplying power from Whitehorse for one day, were destroyed.
An Anvil spokesman estimated the loss at $700,000 but this does not include Campco and N.C.P.C.’s estimate of damage. Representatives of Anvil were to meet with Commissioner James Smith late this afternoon to announce what the company will do now.
A company spokesman, Bert Cook, told The Star Saturday that he didn’t think the fire would delay the housing project and that the buildings would be replaced.
Another man who fought the fire expressed some doubt that this was possible. The whole area, he said, was burned black.
As if Forestry director John Gass and his men haven’t enough problems with forest fires...
Now they have to worry about motorcycle riders using his fire breaks around Crestview as a race track. Mr. Gass said the young people should know better and added that they pose a real danger to both themselves and the surrounding communities of Crestview and Porter Creek.
In the first place, the exhaust pipes on the small bikes could easily start up another fire in the tinder dry country. Also, the Mitchell bomber carries a water load of 1,000 gallons and if this were dropped down somebody’s neck it could cause serious injury.
“We can look after our own men but we can’t look after a bunch of characters on bikes who should have more sense,” Gass said. “That fire isn’t out yet and we have enough problems without somebody adding more to it.”
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