A fire on March 31 that gutted a Whitehorse building housing on along Mountain View Drive also killed an estimated 46,000 chinook and chum salmon fry. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

46,000 salmon fry believed dead after fire at Yukon College facility

The McIntyre Creek Salmon Incubation Facility building housing chinook and chum fry burned March 31

Yukon College is evaluating the damage caused by a fire March 31 that gutted a Whitehorse building housing an estimated 46,000 chinook and chum salmon fry.

No fish are believed to have survived the blaze.

The 25,000 to 30,000 chinook salmon fry and 16,000 chum salmon fry were being raised as part of Fox Creek restoration projects being undertaken in collaboration with Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, respectively.

“For 2018, (the year) is essentially a lost year,” Yukon College communications coordinator Michael Vernon said April 3. “It’s a lost year, so in the coming years, there will be potentially less fish, less salmon, returning to spawn in Fox Creek.”

The building that burned down was one of four that make up the college’s McIntyre Creek Salmon Incubation Facility, which has been operating since 1993. The chinook project has been ongoing for nearly a decade, Vernon said, while the chum salmon project was in its first year.

The Whitehorse Fire Department was called to the scene along Mountain View Drive at 2:18 p.m. on March 31. Fire prevention officer Wayne Smyth said a crew of four trucks and six firefighters arrived to find one of the buildings ablaze.

Although the fire was knocked down “fairly quickly,” Smyth said crews remained on scene for about four hours working on hot spots. There was “no indication of suspicious circumstances” surrounding the cause of the blaze, he added, which is believed to have been caused by a heat trace being used to thaw frozen pipes.

Vernon said no staff were in the facility when the fire started. A college instructor and three student employees who monitored the facility are now in the process of creating a list of equipment lost in the fire, Vernon added, and as such, the college is still calculating the monetary damage the fire caused. The college has also reached out to Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation to set up meetings to discuss operating the facility and the possibilities of rebuilding.

Not all hope has been lost on the chinook front though — about 1,200 chinook fry are being raised in classrooms across the Whitehorse area as part of the restoration project.

“Right now, this summer, those would be the main, primary fish that will be released… So that’s our only silver lining in the whole thing right now, really, is that we know that that can still go ahead,” Vernon said.

The student employees will also be monitoring screens set up in the McIntyre Creek just in case some fry somehow survived the blaze and ended up in the water, although Vernon described the chance of that having happened as “very slim.”

The response from Ta’an Kwäch’än citizens and other community members following the news of the fire has also been very supportive, he added.

“It’s just always great, when something like this happens and it’s such devastating loss to that program, it’s great when people step forward and offer to help,” he said.

Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation did not respond to requests for comment before press time.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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