Smoke signal sparks forest fire

A lost teenager inadvertently started a forest fire while trying to signal rescuers on Sunday afternoon.

A lost teenager inadvertently started a forest fire while trying to signal rescuers on Sunday afternoon.

“This is something that was sort of a last-ditch effort to save herself and she lit a signal fire,” said Dave Milne from Yukon wildland fire management.

“And it caught some dried fuels in the area and started a small brush fire.”

Whitehorse RCMP was notified of several missing people early Saturday morning.

The evening before, four people ventured into the Grey Mountain area in a four-wheel-drive pick up.

The truck became stuck far outside of town and the group decided to divide into two groups to make their way back to Whitehorse.

One group decided to follow the road to make their way back to town.

The second group decided to walk back through the bush.

One of the missing people was located at noon on Saturday and another was rescued five hours later.

A third person wandered out of the woods near Whitehorse General Hospital at 8 p.m.

The searchers continued their search for the last missing person, a 16-year-old girl from Whitehorse.

“At one point there I think there were 70 searchers out looking for her, including aircraft and dogs,” said Milne.

Searchers in a helicopter first spotted the smoke of the brush fire.

When they investigated, they found the missing girl.

The fire burned a half-hectare area at the north end of Grey Mountain.

A RCMP searcher was dropped into the area to cut a pad out of the thick brush so a helicopter could land and rescue the girl.

This searcher was with her on the ground as the first air tankers began to attack the fire.

City firefighters tried to assist, but couldn’t reach the fire from the road.

The girl was not harmed in the fire, but was rushed to Emergency Medical Services at Whitehorse General Hospital for treatment for exposure.

She is reported to be in good condition after her lengthy ordeal in the woods.

The fire was contained and deemed fully extinguished by Monday afternoon.

There’s not likely to be any legal repercussion for starting the blaze, said Milne.

“We have a forest protection act and regulations in it regarding people starting fires and there are many cases where we would press charges,” he said.

“But our sympathies are with the young woman who got lost.”

Wildlife fire management doesn’t normally condone individuals lighting fires indiscriminately in the forest, said Milne.

“But in this case, she had been out there for a day and a half and she knew that people were looking for her and this was the only way that she could think of to let people know where she was.

“It’s not something that we would normally recommend but, as a last-ditch effort, it is very effective.”