Large wildfires in Yukon, northwestern Canada threaten highway

The Pigue Creek fire, as seen from the bank of the Stewart River just outside Stewart Crossing on Tuesday. The fire is creating smoky conditions for Dawson City residents and threatening the North Klondike highway. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)
Fire crews are battling a pair of major wildfires on the North Klondike Highway near Dawson City that are creating smoky conditions for locals but have not yet led to highway closures, Yukon Protective Services said Wednesday afternoon.

The two fires — one at Pigue Creek and one at Hunker Summit — “continue to receive treatment from wildland fire crews,” spokesperson Mike Fancie told CBC Wednesday afternoon.

The Pigue Creek wildfire is at more than 82,000 hectares, while the Hunker Summit fire sits at nearly 13,000. Neither fire is contained, though they have made “limited spread toward the highway,” Fancie said.

A burnout operation was planned near the Pigue Creek wildfire Tuesday, but did not take place due to a shift in wind conditions, Fancie said. Another attempt will be made Wednesday.

“At the current time the Klondike Highway remains open with flags and pilot cars,” Fancie said, but conditions could change rapidly. He suggested that travellers check 511Yukon for current conditions before travelling.

Vehicles were being piloted between Clear Creek Mine Road and McQuesten Lodge Wednesday afternoon “as a safety precaution due to heavy smoke sitting over the highway,” Erin Catherall, fire information officer for Dawson City, said in an email.

She said drivers should expect delays as piloting continues.

The fires have created air quality issues in nearby Dawson City and are causing low visibility between Stewart Creek and the community.

The entrance to Hager’s Fish Camp on the Stewart River is blanketed in smoke Wednesday morning. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

“It’s smoky,” said Jesse Cook, the owner of Husky Bus, which runs tours in the region. “Visibility is bad, and you feel it in the air, and you feel it in your lungs.”

Fancie said that Yukon Protective Services has been in contact with residents who may have cabins or other structures threatened by the fires, and have treated them with structure protection “in the event that the fire does threaten those areas.

“If someone from Wildland Fire has not contacted you regarding your improvement, it’s likely you’re not currently under threat,” he said. “But that being said, we’ve reached out to people all along the Stewart River to ensure that we have plans in place for everyone’s property.”

Fancie also emphasized that fires continue to burn across the Yukon, not just in the Klondike region. On Monday, “extreme fire danger” prompted an open fire ban across much of the territory.

With files from Chris Windeyer, Paul Tukker

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Wildfires in Alaska and Yukon producing smoky conditions, CBC News

Sweden: Study on Swedish wildfires shows how to make forests rise from the ashes, Radio Sweden

United States: Wildfire in Anchorage, Alaska forces rapid response, Alaska Public Media

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