Wildfire threatens Watson Lake region

A forest fire burning less than 25 kilometres from Upper Liard has put the community on evacuation notice.

A forest fire burning less than 25 kilometres from Upper Liard has put the community on evacuation notice.

“Given the right conditions there is a threat to the community and the people that live there,” said Emergency Measures Organization director Michael Templeton.

The fire, which has been burning for more than a week, has grown to 11,000 hectares.

The winds have been blowing from the southeast, pushing the fire away from Upper Liard and Watson Lake (which is 10 kilometres away from the smaller community), said wildland fire risk management specialist Karina Repo at a news conference on Wednesday.

But the wind is moving around and may start blowing from the south, pushing the fire north towards these communities, said government fire management director Ken Colbert.

When a community gets an evacuation notice, it needs to start planning, said Templeton.

“Is there a full tank of gas in the car; what about the pets; do you have a grab-and-go kit packed for at least 72 hours …”

The communities are already blanketed in smoke, with visibility at approximately four kilometres.

If things get worse, the communities will be put on evacuation alert, which means they will be given a timeline in case they get an evacuation order, he said.

The Yukon has brought its firefighters back from BC because of extreme weather conditions in the territory.

And there’s a high-level team in Watson Lake, including the Yukon fire marshal, communications officials and emergency measures, said Colbert.

A wildland fire information officer is posting updates at both the Watson Lake post office and at its liquor store, said Yukon fire information officer George Maratos.

Highway 37 near the BC/Yukon border remains closed, although when smoke dies down and spotter planes can fly, there are some opportunities to escort drivers through, said BC fire information officer Lindsay Carnes.

Because it’s so smoky, fire crew have had a hard time monitoring the fire’s activity, she added.

At this point, no one is fighting the fire.

“There are currently no crews on the ground,” said Carnes.

Because there are no real escape routes, besides the highway, and because it’s so smoky, it’s a tough fire to fight, she said.

“On the landscape there is very little to work with in terms of escape routes.”

The fire is visible from both Upper Liard and Watson Lake, said Templeton.

“And we are letting the people know it is more than just a fire you can see on the landscape – there is a potential threat.”

Whitehorse, Ross River and Haines Junction are also in the extreme-fire-danger rating.

With the dry conditions, lightning threats are a real risk, said Repo.

“But preparedness is a big part of how wildland fire management does business,” said Colbert.

“We have our crews back from BC and we are going to preposition some of these crews today.” (Genesee Keevil)

Potvin’s body found

On Friday, at 11:15 p.m., two members of the Yukon RCMP found Const. Michael Potvin’s body in the Stewart River.

The police officers were approximately 50 kilometres downstream from where Potvin was last seen, near the Mayo boat launch, when they located his body.

On Sunday, Potvin’s body was transported to Whitehorse and then on to Vancouver.

Because Potvin died in a work-related incident, an autopsy will be conducted later this week. (Genessee Keevil)

See more information online at www.yukon-news.com.

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