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People flee Ethel Lake area as Yukon crews battle nearby wildfire

18 people have been flown out of the vicinity of a growing wildfire in central Yukon, while other residents are still on alert that they may need to evacuate their homes. 

Officials say 18 people were flown to Mayo on Tuesday evening as fire grows

A wildfire at Crooked Creek put residents living near Stewart Crossing and Ethel Lake on evacuation alert Tuesday evening. (John Fulton/CBC)

Eighteen people have been flown out of the vicinity of a growing wildfire in central Yukon, while other residents are still on alert that they may need to evacuate their homes and cabins. 

Wildland Fire Management officials said Wednesday that the North Crooked Creek fire, in the Stewart Crossing and Ethel Lake area, had grown rapidly to about 17,702 hectares and was showing aggressive behaviour.

"We have all of our crews responding to this," said Maxim Naylor, public information officer with the Yukon Emergency Measures Organization.

Fire officials say 18 people were voluntarily flown out of the Ethel Lake area by helicopter to Mayo on Tuesday evening, while crews installed structure protection at some properties.  

"Ethel Lake Road has been closed, and we've moved residents out of the area. So if any folks are staying in the area or planning to go back, we're encouraging them this is a no-go area, so go to safety and wait for further instructions," said Naylor.

An evacuation alert was issued on Tuesday evening, when the fire was 12 kilometres south of Stewart Crossing and had crossed Ethel Lake Road, closing the road at the North Klondike Highway. An alert means that residents must be ready to leave within two hours if an evacuation order is issued.

Officials say the fire, estimated at 17,702 hectares, grew rapidly on Tuesday to the north-northeast. (Yukon Wildland Fire Management)

The alert is for residents within a five-kilometre radius around Stewart Crossing, and those within 12 kilometres south-east to Ethel Lake Road, including residences around Ethel Lake. Naylor says there are an estimated 60 residents in the area.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there was no evacuation order for the area.

Naylor said 35 firefighters and five helicopters were working on the fire on Wednesday. Another seven-person crew was working on structure protection.

Scott Bolton, the mayor of nearby Mayo, said a lot of the cabins near Ethel Lake are owned by people from his community. He said he knows at least two cabin owners who stayed in the area on Tuesday night to try to protect people's properties. 

35 firefighters and 5 helicopters were working on the fire on Wednesday. (John Fulton/CBC)

"Last night at nine o'clock, we presumed that cabins were going to be gone. My friend across the street here has a beautiful place there, and he said 'you know, I've just accepted it's not going to be there tomorrow,'" Bolton said on Wednesday.

"And those guys, between them, and two fellows from forestry, got the sprinklers out and got pumps running — and cabins are still standing today."

Coating of ash

Bolton also said a lot of black ash rained down on Mayo on Tuesday evening, leaving a coat on everything.

"It looks like heavy black specks all over your vehicle. And if you touch it, it's like grease," he said. "It fell really heavy."

He said some people have washed their vehicles, while others are waiting to see if more ash will fall.

Mayo mayor Scott Bolton said a shower of black ash fell on his community on Tuesday evening. (Alexandra Byers/CBC)

"At the village, we've got a really nice pressure washer. We're going to move it down to the village office, so if somebody wants to come down and wash their truck, they can do it there."

Emergency officials said the Department of Health and Social Services has also set up a reception centre in Mayo in case of an evacuation order. 

Anyone who voluntarily leaves their property before an evacuation order is issued is being asked to register with Emergency Health and Social Services either in person at the office in the Yukon Government Administration Building in Mayo, or by calling 867-332-4588 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. 

Residents can receive up-to-date road information at 511Yukon.ca and can find updated wildfire information at Yukon.ca/wildfires

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