Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

FOX LAKE FIRE - A solitary vehicle is dwarfed by the thick smoke billowing from the fire near Fox Lake Thursday. Additional firefighters have been called in to help battle the blaze.

Fox Lake Fire

“My lease, my cabin, and the logs I hauled all winter are gone,”

By Whitehorse Star on July 10, 1998

FOX LAKE - With the Fox Lake fire continuing to add to its destruction of over 12,000 hectares, the tempers of area first nations chiefs over the handling of the blaze are rising as quickly as the overhead temperatures.

According to a report from the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, fire crews continue to protect buildings from the fire. An additional 25 firefighters are being deployed, bringing the total personnel to about 60. Fire crews’ strategy is to work on the northwest corner of the fire toward Braeburn Hill.

John Steinbachs, a spokesman for the Department of Community and Transportation Services, reported highway crews are no longer escorting vehicles through km 254 to km 274 of the North Klondike Highway. There is a crew on the scene to monitor the fire in case its direction shifts, but drivers should no longer experience delays, he said today.

But all of this news of additional firefighters and open roads is of little consolation to local first nation chiefs. They believe the fire should never have been permitted to grow to such a size.

Glen Grady, chief of the Ta’an Kwacha’an Council, arrived at Braeburn Lodge by helicopter at 3 p.m. Thursday. He and other local chiefs were assessing the fire’s damage.

Grady said he’s noticed a distinct pattern when it comes to crews saving buildings.

He said the sites specifically selected under the land claims process were permitted to burn, while non-native-owned cabins had tractor trails around them for protection and hoses set up.

“My lease, my cabin, and the logs I hauled all winter are gone,” he said.

Grady, trained as a forest technician instructor with a specialty in fire control, is extremely annoyed with the firefighting techniques.

He said he spotted the fire last Friday, and though only four trees were burning, one truck was attempting to douse the flames.

Joe Jack, chief of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, also examined the blaze from the ground.

He is also angry, thinking crews squandered the chance to extinguish the blaze days ago.

“They had the opportunity to put the fire out. Now it’s jumped the road. It’s going to cost more than if they had directed the necessary resources and manpower at the beginning.

“Now the problem is the government has let the fire burn,” Jack said.

“The same thing happened at Primrose (Lake),” he added, referring to one of Kwanlin Dun’s selected sites being destroyed.

Chris Noble, director of lands and resources for the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation, who was also aboard the helicopter, is sympathetic to the chiefs.

After circling the perimeter of the fire, Noble commented it looks like it has spread as far south as Lake Laberge.

He quickly noticed a definite concern from his fellow passengers in the helicopter.

“If the winds were to change, some settlement lands of the Little Salmon would be exposed to the burn,” he said.

“The last time I came through, all this was green. Now it’s a disaster; this land has traditionally been used by many, many first nations,” he said.

Soon after the passengers were dropped off, crews who had been battling the Primrose fire arrived at the lodge at 3 p.m. for a briefing, with plans to start working the blaze this morning.

The crew included Edith Dawson. This is her first firefighting experience since completing training earlier this summer.

She has worked the last 17 days straight, 12 hours a day fighting the Primrose Lake fire.

Rochelle Thompson, a cook at the Braeburn Lodge, said the fire has made its restaurant one of the busiest places around.

Staff has been forced to make runs to Whitehorse for food, trying to keep up with feeding hungry firefighters and pilots. The staff is pulling 13- hour days to meet the demand. One baker quit this week, saying the pressure was simply too much, she said.

Earlier this week, the lodge lost power due to poles being burnt down. The restaurant relied on a back-up generator kept in a barn.

“Everyone is doing every job just to make it work,” Thompson said.

Steve Watson, owner of the Braeburn Lodge, has never worried about his place going up in smoke.

“Mainly because there is not a lot of fuel around; it’s all poplar trees. It is an area that was burned previously, years ago,” he said.

When asked about the food shortages and the staff working so hard, he said the amount of business is similar; the only difference is that he’s feeding firefighters instead of tourists.

The Robert Campbell Highway, meanwhile, has been reopened, though the Frances Lake-area fire is still burning. Pilot vehicles are escorting travellers through the smoke.

The Whitehorse Star, July 10, 1998 By Cathie Archbould and Sean McNeely

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