British Columbia

Alaska Highway's 8-metre-high lumberjack landmark felled by flames

The enormous lumberjack statue that used to stand just outside of the former Clarke Sawmill, about 40 kilometres south of Fort St. John, went up in flames late Sunday.

For decades, highway drivers used giant fibreglass statue to gauge how far they were from Fort St. John, B.C.

The Clarke family put up the lumberjack statue in the late 1970s. (Submitted by Debbie Lee Clarke)

A landmark statue has burned to the ground around the Mile 62 mark on the Alaska Highway in northern B.C.

The enormous fibreglass lumberjack that used to stand just outside of the former Clarke Sawmill, about 25 kilometres north of Fort St. John, went up in flames late Sunday night, said Debbie Lee Clarke, whose father bought the statue in the late 1970s.

Clarke's mom was at home, near where the statue stood, when she heard a loud bang outside and immediately drove to the scene, Clarke said.

"She said by the time she got there it just went so fast. She stood there and watched it go," said Clarke. 

No one knows for certain what caused the fire, but Clarke thinks someone may have shot fireworks or a flare gun at the lumberjack, which was around eight metres high.

"My mother had heard a bang. The neighbours had heard a bang, and a truck driver in the distance had seen something that looked like a flare or fireworks. So that's all we have," she told CBC's Radio West host Sarah Penton.

The RCMP did not respond to CBC's request for comment.

The Clarke family put up the lumberjack statue in the late 1970s. (Submitted by Debbie Lee Clarke)

Decades of memories

Clarke recalls her father, who died in 1999, found the lumberjack in pieces in a junkyard. The statue had previously been used as a "tire guy" to welcome customers at an auto shop.

"He scooped him up and we rebuilt him and turned him into a lumberjack," Clarke said.

For years after, they dressed the lumberjack in all sorts of costumes for different occasions, including Santa Claus and the Elf on the Shelf near Christmas time.

"We grew up with him. Our whole lives, he was out there. We would sit on his feet and wait for the school bus," said Clarke.

At Christmas time, the Clarke family used to dress up the statue as Santa Claus. (Submitted by Debbie Lee Clarke)

'A real lighthouse'

For those outside of the Clarke household, the statue was a landmark that signalled how far people were from Fort St. John, said Clarke's brother, Marty Clarke.

 "Everybody looked for that guy and you're either getting close to home or getting close to town depending if you're going up the highway or you're coming down," he said. 

"Passersby used him as a real lighthouse, you might say."

However, the figure was often the target of vandalism.

"We've dealt with it a lot … He has been vandalized so many times over the years," said Debbie Lee Clarke. 

People in particular used to like to steal his axe, she recalls — but truck drivers that regularly drove by would feel bad and always replace it with something when the axe went missing.

"Recently, it was a big club somebody had found and stuck it up there for us. We just left it," she said.

Since posting about the fire on Facebook, Clarke has been getting lots of messages from people in the community.

"I'm very overwhelmed with how much he meant to a lot of people," she said.

With files from Josh Pagé and Radio West

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