Whitehorse Daily Star

Stranded travellers set vehicle ablaze

Several stranded people had to set fire to their vehicle earlier this week to survive brutally cold temperatures.

By Whitehorse Star on January 16, 2020

Several stranded people had to set fire to their vehicle earlier this week to survive brutally cold temperatures.

On Monday morning, Pelly Crossing RCMP received a report about a vehicle crash that had occurred Sunday night on the North Klondike  Highway between Pelly Crossing and Carmacks.

The vehicle, with three occupants, had gone off the road late at night with temperatures at around -50 C, police said Wednesday afternoon.

They had no cell phone service and were unable to call for help.

 After several hours they deliberately set their vehicle on fire to stay warm.

The stranded party was picked up at around 7:30 a.m. Monday by passing motorists.

Two of the occupants are being treated for injuries due to exposure.

The RCMP are still investigating this incident.

Police are reminding the public to stay safe and warm in these extreme temperatures. A few tips for safe travel in the cold:

• Make a plan. Always tell someone where you’re going and when to expect you back.

• Bring an emergency and survival kit with you, which may include:

• A GPS tracking device and/or a satellite phone;

• Extra non-perishable food and water in a container that won’t break when frozen;

• A way to make a fire; and

• Extra clothing such as socks, mitts/gloves and a toque/hat.

Dress in layers and stay dry. Natural fibres like wool are best to keep yourself warm.

In the event that something does go wrong, stay in one place. This makes it easier for police and search parties to locate you.

Comments (15)

Up 9 Down 0

Davis on Jan 22, 2020 at 12:16 pm

@ Woodcutter - CBC posted a photo of the vehicle ablaze. They crashed right in the middle of a forest. There were tree branches within an arms length of the vehicle. Regardless, I think it's safe to say they were very ill-prepared. If you're doing a road trip in the dark at -50 make sure to bring some warm clothes and ideally means to start a fire and a sat-phone or sat-messenger.

Up 3 Down 4

Capitan on Jan 21, 2020 at 8:45 pm

@i'm burning burning -- way to keep your eye on the important things, dude, your insurance rates and their dubious connection to this incident.
Anyone who has been up here long enough has had some close calls due to ill-advised decisions. Firewood isn't easy to cut in better situations, by the way!

Up 7 Down 1

Dar Winne on Jan 21, 2020 at 6:10 pm

@ Woodcutter - I have worked in and survived extreme temperatures. I have even made vehicle repairs at - 63 or so. Weather cold enough to freeze - 50, not so antifreeze. It’s difficult but doable.

The reason why I can comfortably speak to the issue is that I was not prepared for such extremes. I was dressed for a B.C. winter. Perhaps a Darwin candidate myself a time or two. You live and learn.

Fortunately I had near a full tank of gas and ironically the vehicle was overheating. I made short ventures outside the vehicle to collect firewood - warmup - work on the vehicle - warm up.
Survival first. Yes. There is lots of available firewood. Had I lit my vehicle on fire I surely would not have survived.

Nobody was suggesting twigs. Survival in extreme weather takes time and thought. You work slow and don’t exert yourself. You work purposefully and don’t exert yourself. Do things in short time frames - Survival first - Don’t build a small fire - Build a big one.

Up 18 Down 8

Miles Epanhauser on Jan 20, 2020 at 5:54 pm

We were not there so it's unfair to judge the situation and people involved.

Up 17 Down 7

Johnson on Jan 20, 2020 at 3:25 pm

If you think burning a couple of twigs off a nearby tree is gunna keep you warm at fifty below, I don't think you've ever even started a fire.
At those temps you need firewood, not a couple of dead branches and if you don't have the tool for the job (axe, or better, a saw), your options are pretty limited.

Not everyone has a sleeping bag big enough for these temps, or room to carry a chainsaw in the front seat.
Good on them for doing something that kept them alive til morning.

Up 12 Down 10

Woodcutter on Jan 20, 2020 at 12:28 pm

@burning for you
You don't have hours at -50c, even with proper clothes, you have minutes. You can't just stroll in 2 feet of snow and pickup sticks to make a fire, and you can't knock down standing dead in the dark with out seriously risking injury. I wouldn't knock down trees in the dark even in great conditions because that is just stupid.
I can tell by that statement just how little knowledge you have about the risks of falling trees is. Imagine 50 below, you wonder into the bush in the dark with your axe, find a tree and swing at it, while your all bundled up, for 30 minutes and then it falls onto another tree or on you. Then now you can't drop it to where your going and then you need to chop it up into smaller pieces to get a fire going. Brilliant survival strategy, I would feel so comfortable and secure travelling with you.

It's obvious you've never had to survive in a extreme cold weather situation, since your still alive.

Up 11 Down 1

Atom on Jan 20, 2020 at 9:25 am

If you travel in -40's without any knowledge of how to take care of yourself in the event of a breakdown or getting stuck/froze, then you can always burn your car...SKS manual, pg 36.

Up 11 Down 6

Doug martens on Jan 20, 2020 at 6:01 am

Do EVs burn as hot as gasoline powered ones? I'll wait.

Up 20 Down 10

I’m burning, I’m burning for you on Jan 19, 2020 at 7:41 pm

@ Woodcutter - It is irresponsible to travel without the proper cold weather safety gear. It kind of suggests they weren’t thinking to begin with. Did they need to travel?
And no, it is actually pretty easy to get fire wood, even at these temps, assuming you are properly dressed. Evergreen branches snap pretty easy. There is also all sorts of dead standing wood, etc., along the highway.

They had several hours to kill before they lit the vehicle on fire. Your supposition is highly speculative and appears to support poor decision-making. Why should I have to pay higher insurance rates because some people cannot preplan?

Up 25 Down 13

Woodcutter on Jan 18, 2020 at 11:13 am

To all those who ask why they didn't cut wood I stead of burn your truck.

Many factors come into the issue
They were involved in an accident perhaps it took awhile for them to get mobile perhaps injuries.

It's been-50 c in the region for over a week now, any dry wood would have so much frost on it, it would be extremely difficult to start a fire.
The extreme cold weather, saps the energy out of a person so fast it's alarming, it's easy to be an arm chair general from the comfort of a home with central heating
Lots of people are on the road in this cold weather, and some don't make it. My friend told me he seen 5 cars on the side of the road between Pelly crossing and Whitehorse all froze up.

There is 2 feet of snow in the Pelly area, so the ability to get wood is not as easy as folks would imagine while they sit in their homes with central heating. Walking thru 2 feet of snow chopping trees is not easy work you would sweat and then you would be in real trouble.
Imagine trying to remove a tire at 50 below after you've been in an accident, maybe you can't get to the tools maybe you don't have the dexterity in your frozen hands.

Screw the insurance company, there was a life and death decision that had to be made and the fact they survived is a story of human endurance .

Up 24 Down 7

David on Jan 17, 2020 at 12:21 pm

If they had the means to start a fire why did they not gather some wood from the nearby trees to burn instead of their car??!

Up 20 Down 2

Yukon Justice on Jan 17, 2020 at 12:09 pm

Torching the vehicle is old school. We were taught to punch a hole in the gas tank and let it burn. At one time an axe was kept in the trunk of government vehicles, its purpose wasn't specified but the understanding was it might save your life. Bundles of candles were also stored, they were suppose to keep the cab warm until help arrived. And I think a couple of cans of steno plus matches were in the survival package.

Up 37 Down 11

Dar Winne on Jan 16, 2020 at 6:26 pm

Did they set the vehicle on fire to stay warm or to survive? It will be an interesting question for the insurance company to answer.
Why would someone travel let alone travel without life-saving gear at these temps? Do we have ask Darwin for the answer?

Up 28 Down 13

Rob on Jan 16, 2020 at 6:01 pm

They probably didn’t need to burn it with all the wood in the surrounding forest...

Up 29 Down 12

Thomas Brewer on Jan 16, 2020 at 4:04 pm

Not quite sure why they had to burn the whole car... surely they could have only utilised parts of it to start a fire of... you know... wood.
Pretty easy to find wood on the sides of the highway... if there's no slash piles, there's standing dead just a few meters away.

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