Wildfire breaches north Klondike Hwy in Yukon, burns up power poles

The North Klondike Highway remains closed from Stewart Crossing to Pelly Crossing after fire breached the highway, the Yukon government has confirmed.

The North Klondike Highway remains closed from Stewart Crossing to Pelly Crossing

A photo of the Crystal Creek fire taken by a driver on the Klondike Highway over the weekend. (Yukon Protective Services/ Facebook)

The North Klondike Highway remains closed from Stewart Crossing to Pelly Crossing after fire breached the highway, the Yukon government has confirmed.

Earlier on Wednesday, there were some power poles on fire, said Mike Fancie, the Yukon government's community engagement officer.

"That's never good. I don't want to sugarcoat that the fire did hit the highway and has been in the process of burning to the west of the North Klondike highway now," he said adding it's complicated access through the highway.

"It means that the fire is at the highway. But ideally, hopefully, for us it means that once that infrastructure can be repaired, the fire will have burned over the highway and the risk will have passed. "

The Crystal Lake fire is still deemed out of control, with the North Klondike Highway closed between Stewart Crossing and Pelly Crossing due to "unpredictable, dangerous fire behaviour," the territory's website says. 

Fancie said the entire area from Keno down across to Moose Creek is under an evacuation alert right now due to the Crystal Lake fire, along with several other fires along the Silver Trail highway and area.

"We have been specifically active in Stewart Crossing for the past few days installing structure protection in the community. We're moving on to the Na-Cho Nyak Dun outposts today to do the same," he said, adding the protection is in the form of a "sprinkler kit."

"We put up devices on buildings that can create basically as much moisture as possible around the perimeter of the site, in order to prevent flames from spreading onto it and catching catching fire, maybe igniting the roof, igniting things on the lawn around it that might be susceptible to fire."

He said it's one of fire crews's "best way" of protecting sites from a fire.

For those who must travel in the area between Stewart Crossing and Pelly Crossing there are pilot cars helping people drive through the area when it's safe to do so, but he said there are no guarantees.

"Visibility has been really poor, the air quality in that space is very poor," he said.

A fire information officer is off to Mayo Wednesday afternoon, Fancie said, and will be speaking with residents and offering extra support. He said people should be ready to evacuate within two hours notice.

"An information officer in the community can help us coordinate that information better, take advantage of local spaces, put a map up on the wall and point to it, give people the chance to ask questions in person."

Power poles being worked on

Northwestel and Yukon Energy were on the scene to repair the power pole damage, including bringing in a crane to help with the repairs.

Jim Regimbal, the northern area superintendent with the Department of Highways and Public Works, said that work may be adding to the delays for drivers trying to get through that road with a pilot car, along with the fire unpredictability.

"Some people have waited only a few minutes to a couple of hours ... but some people actually had to wait overnight because of the uncertainty of the fire behaviours," he said. "If people don't have to travel that road, I would advise them not to and make sure you're updated on 511."

Regimbal said the department is working on a detour if the closure last any longer but at this time he said there's no timeframe for when they'll reopen the road. 

Mike Mancini, owner of the Keno City Snack Bar in Keno City, which is under an evacuation alert, said the area is looking "eerie" with no traffic.

"The reality of the situation is definitely hitting home for everybody here," he said, adding people have been doing their best to prepare in the event they must leave.

When it comes to communication with the territory, he said "there's a bit of frustration within the community."

"Especially now with the internet being down and all the communication with [YUKON] emergency measures is at zero. Right now, we have no idea. Nobody's telling us anything," he said.

The community has also been rallying up water from the river in the event its needed to help moisten the area. Mancini is also hoping the territory gives the town residents wider access to the town's fire hall, which he said is currently locked but houses a water well. 

With files from Leonard Linklater and Anna Desmarais