North

Trucker recounts finding frigid Yukon travellers burning vehicle to stay warm

Yves Lafond was driving out of Carmacks, Yukon, last Monday when he came upon a vehicle burning in the ditch. The pickup had gone off the road hours earlier, stranding three men. They decided to set it on fire to stay warm in -50 C weather.

'Where is the driver? Or the people? I was kind of freaking out a bit,' says Yves Lafond

Whitehorse trucker Yves Lafond came upon a burning vehicle north of Carmacks, Yukon. The pickup truck had gone off the road hours earlier, stranding three men. They eventually decided to set fire to the pickup to stay warm in -50 C weather. Lafond snapped this picture after the travellers were safely inside his truck. (Yves Lafond)

Yves Lafond was about half an hour up the road from Carmacks, Yukon, last Monday morning when he spotted it.

"I came out of that curve, and gee, it was a vehicle on fire," he recalled. "You know, you look twice — what do I see? Yeah, it is a vehicle on fire!"

The long-distance truck driver from Whitehorse was the first to find them — three men whose pickup truck went off the road the night before, leaving them stranded in –50 C weather. They had set it on fire to keep from freezing to death.

As he approached, Lafond only saw the flaming wreck.

"If there's no vehicle around, like another vehicle around, that means nobody came to help. Where is the driver? Or the people? And I was kind of freaking out a bit," Lafond said.

Then he spotted them, on the other side of the flames.

"They started waving their hands ... 'OK, alive,' I thought."

The three were alive, but in deep distress. By the time Lafond rolled up, they had been waiting for hours and were dangerously chilled. They scrambled to get into Lafond's warm truck, but it was a struggle. 

"They were moving like robots, really." Lafond said.

They had a quick meeting and finally the guy who owned the truck agreed, and they set it on fire.- Yves Lafond

By that time, another truck had pulled up behind Lafond and took one of the three stranded travellers in. Then they left the burning wreck behind and headed up the road to Pelly Crossing.

Lafond offered them some fresh coffee, but one of the men immediately spilled his cup because his hands were too cold to hold it.

'We're in the life-and-death scenario'

As they drove, Lafond heard more about their ordeal. 

"They were telling me some parts, and my foot was going down on that fuel pedal, instinctively. I thought, man, I have to get those guys in the heat, fast."

The men told him they had tried to get wood for a fire, but there was too much snow in the bush. One of them had also started out walking to get help, but soon decided that was a bad idea.

Lafond found the travellers about half an hour's drive north of Carmacks, Yukon. (Alexandra Byers/CBC)

Early the next morning, they told Lafond, they were in serious trouble. No cars had passed. One of the men said he had started to feel warm and unzipped his coat — a sign that confusion was setting in.

"So he told the two other guys, 'This is it, we're in the life-and-death scenario right now, so we have to do something fast, because in five minutes, well, we won't be able to take any decision,'" Lafond said.

"They had a quick meeting and finally the guy who owned the truck agreed, and they set it on fire."

Don't judge, says rescuer

Lafond thinks they did the right thing. He says it's easy for other people to judge, but they weren't there.

"You're in the heat of your house, you think about all the possibility, what you could have done, and this and that, and it's easy to think — it's like the 'hockey pro' at the tavern," he said.

RCMP said last week that two of the people were being treated for injuries due to exposure to the cold, but there's no word on their condition.

Lafond says stopping to help was a no-brainer for him. Working as a truck driver in the North means you don't take life for granted, he says.

"We've got to help each other on the road up here. If someone is stopped for any reason, you stop and ask if everything's all right."

Written by Paul Tukker, based on an interview by Leonard Linklater

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