The Dimok Timber sawmill near Haines Junction lost thousands of dollars of lumber last week in a fire its owners are calling suspicious.
At around 7 p.m. Thursday, Daniel Clunies-Ross got a phone call from one of the other owners that a fire had started in a corner of the timber lot.
Clunies-Ross raced to the yard and attempted to put out the fire himself, first with snow then by using a loader to spread the burning logs apart.
But the pile of beetle-kill spruce got “so hot, so fast” that Clunies-Ross had to pull the machines away from the fire, he said.
The Yukon’s wildland forest management crew arrived on the scene shortly after, followed by the Haines Junction volunteer fire department.
The crews contained the fire within 20 minutes, but they stayed well past midnight to mop up remains of the fire, said volunteer fire chief Martin Eckervogt.
Although the majority of the sawmill was spared from the flames, Clunies-Ross estimates $30,000 to $40,000 worth of wood was lost that evening. The company doesn’t have insurance to cover the losses.
“They were some of the best logs we had sorted out for the season,” said Clunies-Ross. The burned wood was to be cut into the more valuable 8×8 and 10×10 pieces of lumber.
It’s the first timber yard fire in the company’s 15-year history. It also happened in a corner of the yard where no one had worked for several days, he said.
That’s why Clunies-Ross suspects the fire could be arson.
“There’s really no other explanation for the fire,” he said.
“We’ve never burned piles in that area and there was still snow and ice beneath the pile (where the fire started).”
It isn’t the first time that Clunies-Ross has had to deal with a suspicious fire.
About 20 years ago, a building on the property where the sawmill is now located caught fire. That fire also looked like arson, however, the cause was never conclusively determined, said Clunies-Ross.
The RCMP are now investigating the fire and would not say whether arson was the cause.
The fire near Haines Junction is the sixth to have sparked in the Yukon this season. Last weekend alone wildland forest management crews battled four separate human-caused fires.
Lower than average snowpacks and a dry, hot summer are expected to create an active fire season this year.
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