Whitehorse Daily Star

Watson Lake-area wildfire is expected to burn for some time

Yukon Wildland Fire Management says crews are working hard to contain the fire burning 40 kilometres northeast of Watson Lake.

By Gord Fortin on July 12, 2018

Yukon Wildland Fire Management says crews are working hard to contain the fire burning 40 kilometres northeast of Watson Lake.

Wildland director Mike Etches told the Star Wednesday afternoon that the blaze has grown to the north.

“It is definitely out of control at this point and active,” Etches said.

The fire is currently 6,500 hectares and is now abutting the Francis River to the west.

He said there were strong winds Wednesday that could have helped the fire cross the river, and crews are working hard to prevent that setback.

“There is always the possibility of it getting across the river and heading towards the Robert Campbell Highway,” Etches said.

If the fire is able to traverse the river, this will strengthen the risk to the highway.

In that case, access to the highway during the busy tourism season will either be cut off or, at the very least, reduced.

The winds were blowing southwest yesterday. This caused the fire to move northeast, away from Watson Lake.

Etches said this means there is no threat to the community.

Wildland is trying to contain the fire with natural barriers, like the Francis River. Currently, firefighters are taking river water to drop it on hot spots as they appear.

Crews are also setting up structures – mainly trappers’ cabins – with sprinklers. These structures are close to water sources.

The goal is to wet the structure and the ground to make both more resistant to burning.

Etches said there are 30 Wildland firefighters and five helicopters out fighting the blaze.

“This has all been within the Yukon so far,” he said.

Etches feels much more remains to be done before the fire can be wrestled under control.

“It will be around for a couple of weeks at least,” he predicted.

He said there needs to be a lot of rain, and expects the strong winds will subside soon. When that happens, it should calm the fire down somewhat.

The Yukon Emergency Measures Organization has issued an evacuation alert for kilometres 30 to 58 of the Robert Campbell Highway.

Etches said Wildland staff has approached the two permanent residents of the affected area. They have been informed that they may have to leave the area with as little as two hours’ notice.

Anyone who uses the highway could also be affected, he pointed out.

Etches explained that the fire was sparked by a lightning strike. He said it could have been as simple as a bolt striking a tree.

Wildland does have an approximate starting point in the southwest corner of the affected area. He was not sure if this was investigated.

Meanwhile a new fire was reported Wednesday near Gladstone Bay on Kluane Lake.

Amanda Couch, a Wildlands communications analyst, confirmed that crews were sent out to the area to investigate and are fighting the fire.

According to Wildland’s website, that blaze is 0.3 hectares in size.

The fire is now classified as under control.

Wildland is posting updates regarding all wildfire activity in the territory on its website, www.yukon.ca/emergencies.

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