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Fires rage across the Yukon

Hot weather and storms over the weekend caused lightning fires to ignite across the Yukon, from Old Crow to Watson Lake. A severe storm Friday saw nearly 1,000 lightning strikes hit the territory.

Hot weather and storms over the weekend caused lightning fires to ignite across the Yukon, from Old Crow to Watson Lake.

A severe storm Friday saw nearly 1,000 lightning strikes hit the territory, causing seven new fires, four of which were near communities.

Fires continued to spark over the weekend and into Monday as hot, dry conditions persisted in many parts of the Yukon.

British Columbia and Alberta came to the territory’s aid in managing these outbreaks. A total of 83 firefighters and senior staff have come to help from Outside, adding to about 60 crew members already stationed in the Yukon.

“We really appreciate the assistance from both British Columbia and Alberta in putting that together very quickly. Within 12 hours of our call we has resources on the ground and in some cases on the fires,” said Duty Officer Mike Sparks.

Early Friday evening, lightning sparked a fire less than two kilometres from Keno City.

“It went from a little smoke over the hill to fairly substantial within a matter of a half an hour,” said Jim Milley, who co-owns the Sourdough Cafe in Keno.

The fire was initially headed directly for the community, but air tankers and ground crews were able to contain the blaze.

“Everybody ran around the community making sure everybody was ready just in case the wind changed, and the RCMP were up checking out and making sure the tourists knew that everybody might have to leave at a moment’s notice,” Milley said.

The Bellekeno mine shut down its operations for two days as a precautionary measure.

That fire is now extinguished, and crews began to demobilize from the area yesterday.

At around 12:30 p.m. Sunday, a fire ignited only 600 metres from Eagle Plains Lodge.

“We were fortunate,” said lodge owner Stan McNevin. “The wind actually flashed up the fire, but it did help keep it off of us. If it had been blowing in the opposite direction we would have been looking at an evacuation situation, for sure.”

Air tankers and a helicopter were dispatched to that fire, and the crews contained it to five hectares. Yukon’s Wildland Fire Management team expects to have it completely extinguished today.

“The lights are still on and we haven’t burned down, that’s a good thing. Now all we have to do is swat bugs,” McNevin said.

Just to the south of Eagle Plains, five fires, each within three kilometres of the Dempster Highway, forced temporary road closures between Sunday evening and Monday midday.

The wind has shifted since then, and is now blowing the fire and smoke away from the highway, McNevin said.

The road is currently open and the fires are being closely monitored.

Thirteen firefighters continue to work on a fire that has been burning for 12 days, 20 kilometres to the south of Dawson City. There are mining camps in the area, but none are immediately at risk.

To the south, a fire was reported Sunday burning only two kilometres from the Inn on the River near Johnson’s Crossing on the Alaska Highway.

Helicopters and ground crews contained that fire to two hectares. Work in the area wrapped up yesterday.

A large, 80-hectare fire continues to burn six kilometres to the south of Watson Lake.

At the time it was reported, the fire was moving towards the community of Upper Liard, recently devastated by flooding.

That movement has since been contained by a control line along the southern perimeter of the fire.

Thirty-eight firefighters, four helicopters and an air tanker continue to work to put out that fire. Officials expect the site will remain active for several days.

Cooling temperatures, cloud cover and scattered precipitation have calmed fire activity across the Yukon and aided fire-suppression efforts.

All Yukon communities have the capacity to manage initial attacks in the event of new outbreaks, said Sparks.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at