The fires are alight

DAWSON CITY Forest fire season in the Dawson region is underway. A lightning storm that swept through the area Thursday night, combined with a week…


Forest fire season in the Dawson region is underway.

A lightning storm that swept through the area Thursday night, combined with a week of 30-degree Celsius temperatures, left behind plenty of work for firefighters, says  Steve Morberg, the local wildland fire management crew leader.

“It went down the river and has been shooting sparks all the way,” says Morberg.  “There’s been multiple starts. We’ve got four known fires at this time.”

Morberg’s crew established a staging area in the north end of Dawson City.

From there, the crew was transported downriver where Morberg says he expected to be working all night to bring the fires under control.

“We’re tying to get the hose around it,” says Morberg. “The tankers have dropped retardant on it, but it’s only good for so long, then it evaporates.”

The recent hot weather has worsened conditions, says Morberg, and could make containing the fire difficult.

“By tomorrow afternoon, if it’s hot and we don’t have the fires held, there’s a good chance they’ll take off,” says Morberg.

The crew will do its best to ensure that doesn’t happen, says Mark Russell, a veteran forest firefighter.

“They are probably under 2.5 hectares,” says Russell.  “We’ll try to catch them before they grow.”

“The bombers will slow the fires down until we get on it.  We’ll take control from there,” adds Russell.

The fires are no surprise, says Jon Harris, who has been fighting fires for three years.

“We’ve been waiting since the beginning of May,” says Harris.  “It’s to be expected that fires start right around this time.”

The fire crew has been keen to get to work since the recent hot weather began, says Harris.

“Not hoping too much,” says Harris. “But we prefer to be out in the field rather than sitting around the base.”

Continuing storm activity in the area could mean a busy start to the fire season, says Morberg. 

“There’s another (storm) coming over the Top of the World Highway shooting sparks,” says Morberg.

“One already went through the Gold Fields. In the next day or two we could see a couple of starts popping up there.”

Morberg is reluctant to predict what kind of fire season it might be, but says the conditions look much like they did in 2004 when fire consumed over 1.7 million hectares of the Yukon.

“It looks to be like 2004,” says Morberg. “But it’s hard to say if anything can be as bad as 2004. You never know.”

Wayne Potoroka is a freelance writer living in Dawson City.


Third body identified

More than six months after his disappearance, the body of David Gillmor has been found.

At around 8:10 p.m. Tuesday, a local jogger spotted his remains from Miles Canyon Road, along the shore of Schwatka Lake, according to police.

Police and firefighters recovered it from the water.

A preliminary exam showed no signs of foul play and his body is now in the coroner’s office for an autopsy, said RCMP Sgt. Ross Milward.

The 48-year-old was reported missing on December 2, 2005.

Described as six-foot-one with brown hair and brown eyes, Gillmor was working at Coles Bookstore in Whitehorse before he went missing.

His blue pickup truck was found in December near the Marsh Lake Bridge on a pullout beside the highway.

Search-and-rescue helicopters combed the area without success, according to police reports at the time.

After pulling Gillmor’s body from Schwatka Lake this week, police found identification on him and later, two distinctive tattoos, added Milward.

Gillmor’s body is the third pulled from the Yukon River system since May 31.

First, the body of 27-year-old Curtis Garrett Woods was drawn from the old shipyard pilings in the Yukon River, at the foot of Wood Street.

A few days later the remains 34-year-old Uklette David Ritchotte were recovered from shallow water on the east shore of Lake Laberge, across from Horse Creek.

While Ritchotte has been missing since last October, Woods was last seen much more recently, on April 30 outside the Blue Moon Saloon on Jarvis Street.

The blood work for Woods and Ritchotte is not in yet. It will determine whether alcohol or drugs were involved.

No foul play is suspected in the deaths which are believed to be accidental drownings. (CO)