Northwestel says fire not threatening fibre-optic link

Some Yukoners have been told to prepare for an internet outage but this is very unlikely says Northwestel. A spokesperson says the company is says it's unlikely a fibre-optic cable will be damaged by a fire burning south of Watson Lake in its current condition.

Fire burning near Watson Lake not considered a threat says spokesperson

Yukoners have experiences internet outages in the past, when Northwestel's fibre-optic cable was damaged. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

A fire burning south of Watson Lake has some northerners worried about an Internet outage. 

But on July 9 Northwestel said it was not especially concerned under current conditions. 

Spokesperson Adriann Kennedy said it's most probable the buried cable will survive even if the fire burns nearer.

On July 9 Northwestel spokesperson Adriann Kennedy said the company believes its cable will survive the fire under current conditions. (Philippe Morin/CBC)
"We are working with Yukon Wildland Fire Management to monitor the situation. We agree with their assessment that a threat is not likely at this time," she said. 

Kennedy adds that even if a fire did reach the buried cable it wouldn't necessarily mean an outage. 

"Not every fire threat will result in damage," she said. "The fire south of Fort Nelson B.C. on Wednesday did pass over our fibre line alongside the Alaska highway and we recorded no damage." 

Kennedy says there have been four other incidents of fires crossing Northwestel's fibre optic line this summer without affecting service. 

Businesses warn clients to prepare

Some businesses in Whitehorse have warned their customers to be ready.

On July 9 the Best Western Gold Rush Inn in Whitehorse slipped a note under every door asking guests to "please plan all communications as a proactive measure should Northwestel lose their fiber connection."

Whitehorse resident and computer technician Martin Lehner says it's normal that people are worried. He says there's a lot riding on one cable and that means the territory's Internet is vulnerable. 

Whitehorse resident and computer technician Martin Lehner says he may have misspoke during an interview on CBC Radio in November. (Philippe Morin/CBC)
"The majority of the traffic that leaves the Yukon — whether it's data, cellphone, anything like that — it goes South over the fibre line. It's our main mode of transportation," he said.

While the fibre-optic cable isn't the only source of Internet, it is by far the fastest.

Lehner says Yukoners also have the slower, radio-tower-based microwave system which Northwestel could use, though certain uses would have to be made a priority such as emergency services.

Kennedy says crews work to protect infrastructure from fire during the summer. Their work includes burying cables in sand and cutting tree branches which are near above-ground cables to protect them from fire. 


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