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  Friday, July 3, 1998

Fox Lake Fire closes North Klondike Highway

by SEAN McNEELY  Star Reporter

A roaring 300-hectare bush fire at the north end of Fox Lake has forced the closure of the North Klondike highway because of thick smoke and unsafe driving conditions. Torrid temperatures across the territory are feeding it and dozens of other fires that have broken out during the last couple of days.

The Fox Lake area is about 80 kilometres north of Whitehorse.

This morning, motorists were allow to pass through the fire-stricken area, guided through a 15-kilometre stretch of the highway. Flag personnel and pilot vehicles escorted them through km 254 and 270 of the highway. (It was also closed for a brief period of time last night.)

Motorists were advised to roll their windows up before passing through the pungent smoke. The highway is a crucial link for tourists travelling to and from Alaska, and long lineups quickly developed after it was closed.

Eventually, the thickening, acrid smoke proved too risky for public travel. no word was given early this afternoon as to when the road will reopen.

Travellers are advised to call the territorial highway branch's road report at 667-8215 for an update on the artery's passability.

The fire was called is at approximately 1:15 p.m. Thursday. Three air tankers, two helicopters and ground crews responded within 15 minutes of the report.

Today, crews continue to battle the blaze that is still considered out of control. They are trying to protect nearby cabins that so far have not been damaged.

While no injuries have been reported, there is some cause for concern for 12 children at the Braeburn Lake Bible camp. The children and staff are prepared to move if necessary. Fire officials have assured the public they have the situation under control if an evacuation is required.

Power at the Braeburn Lodge was cut off last evening. Today, several persons reached at the lodge late this morning said that while power was still out, they were coping. They said they were too busy feeding firefighters to talk further.

Though spreading north last night, the fire was considered stationary this morning, said Paula Webber, a communications officer for the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in Whitehorse. However, as temperatures rise this afternoon, the blaze is moving north toward Little Fox Lake, where there are also cabins.

Webber said fire officials determined the blaze was human-caused - started in a gravel pit, probably by careless campers.

"It's important to note the three main fires in Haines Junction, Primrose Lake and Fox Lake were all human-caused," stressed Webber. So people should use extra caution when camping, she advised.

The Fox Lake fire was one of nine that started Thursday, keeping fire crews on their toes, said Webber.

One of those nine is a blaze near Little Salmon Lake, where air tankers have just been called in today, Webber said.

The size of the fire is unknown, but Webber said there were no reports of injuries or damage to properties. It was also determined the blaze was started by lightning.

And, closer to the city, a small grass fire was extinguished at 5:30 p.m. Thursday near Yukon College. It was put out almost immediately after the report, Webber said. No cause has been determined.

The cause of most of the latest fires is lightning (except for the Fox Lake fire). Extremely dry, hot conditions are contributing to lightning with no accompanying precipitation, Webber said.

Unfortunately for firefighters, hot and dry weather is expected to continue through this weekend.

Webber also stated there will suspension of burning permits in the Whitehorse district, Carmacks, Mayo, and Haines Junction. In these areas, fires can only be lit in an approved campground fire pit.

In looking at the entire territory, these latest blazes bring the total for this year to 92.

Note: This article has been re-printed with permission from the Whitehorse Star