North Klondike Highway in Yukon closed again due to nearby wildfires

Smoke from the 1,819-hectare Willow Creek fire south of Stewart Crossing, Yukon, was visible on Sunday. (Yukon Protective Services - image credit)

The North Klondike Highway in the Yukon was closed again Monday afternoon between Pelly Crossing and Stewart Crossing, due to two out-of-control wildfires both burning less than a kilometre from the road.

It's the third time that stretch of highway has been closed in the last few days.

As of Monday afternoon, the Wrong Lake fire was an estimated 257 hectares in size, and burning about 20 kilometres south of Stewart Crossing, on the west side of the highway. The Willow Creek fire, about 15 kilometres further south on the east side of the highway, was an estimated 1,819 hectares on Monday.

The highway between Pelly Crossing and Stewart Crossing (kilometres 463 to 534) was closed Thursday because of the fires and later reopened before being closed again on Sunday. It then reopened again late Sunday evening, though officials warned that closures were possible again on Monday.

Wildfire information officer Haley Ritchie said Monday morning that peak fire activity tends to be in the late afternoon and evening, and so the best time to travel is early morning.

"Our long-term goal is going to be either to secure these fires so we can keep the highway more consistent, or bring in pilot cars," Ritchie said.

"We know closures are very frustrating and we want to try and and keep people moving through there. It's an important corridor."

Ritchie said the fires were getting a "full response," and that crews were using aircraft and heavy equipment as they worked to protect powerlines and telecommunications infrastructure.

Ritchie said the cause of the two fires is still undetermined, but that they were likely started by lightning.

As of Monday, there were 34 active wildfires in the territory and nine of them were getting a full response from firefighters.

An evacuation alert, issued last Wednesday, is still in place for a wilderness area northwest of the Minto Bridge on the Silver Trail in central Yukon, due to the nearby Rudolph Gulch fire. That fire was an estimated 211 hectares, and crews were working to bring it under control before hot, dry weather returns later in the week.

Ritchie said fire activity was so far "pretty normal" for this time of year in the Yukon, and that things were likely to pick up in the coming days.

"At least for the next week, we're going to see more active fires on the landscape because things are going to be dry, days are long right now. So it's possible we'll be seeing more smoke around the territory," she said.