A wildfire evacuation, and driving the Alaska Hwy back home

In my last post, we had all laid down for a late afternoon nap on July 6 at the Snag Junction Campground on the Alaska Highway. After leaving my regular readers hanging in my last post, I apologize for the delay in posting this one. Cathy brought a nasty bug home from Ontario with her, and I’ve caught it – I’m off to the doctor’s this morning.

Bella and Tucker and Molly and I had snuggled up for our nap at 3:30, and were enjoying the last bit of it when all hell broke loose just before 5:00 pm. There was very loud pounding on the RV door. Still half asleep, I threw on a pair of shorts, went to the door and opened it, to be told that we had to leave right away because of a wildfire. I asked where it was and his reply was “It’s right here!”

I leaned out and looked up. OMG!! He said that Beaver Creek was safe, so I fired up the RV, pulled the slides in, secured everything, and pulled out to the campground ring road where I could hook the Tracker up.

Snag wildfire from the Snag Junction Campground on the Alaska Highway
At 5:15, we pulled out onto the Alaska Highway. A helicopter was circling the campground to make sure everyone was out. The next photo shows the view out my windshield at 5:20 as we started toward Beaver Creek.

Snag wildfire from the Snag Junction Campground on the Alaska Highway
5:22

Snag wildfire, Yukon
At 5:25, unsure of whether Beaver Creek actually was the best direction to be driving, I pulled over, took some photos and gave the situation some thought.

Snag wildfire along the Alaska Highway, Yukon

Snag wildfire along the Alaska Highway, Yukon

I decided that the wildfire was very likely to close the highway, and I wanted to be on the Whitehorse side of the fire if that was possible. At 5:31 I came to a garbage bin pullout and turned around. I sat there for a few minutes…

Snag wildfire along the Alaska Highway, Yukon
5:38 – vehicles were still getting through, so I decided to head south.

Snag wildfire along the Alaska Highway, Yukon
5:40 – roadblock! I had a brief conversation with the RCMP officer. A couple of minutes later, he returned and said we had to get out of there as the wildfire was closing in on us and he had to move the roadblock north (back towards Beaver Creek) a few miles.

Snag wildfire roadblock on the Alaska Highway, Yukon
At 51 feet in length, I’m not able to do a U-turn on the highway. It took a few minutes to disconnect the Tracker, get both vehicles turned around, and get pointed north. A helicopter hovered low overhead and I gave the pilot the thumbs up just before pulling away.

Snag wildfire along the Alaska Highway, Yukon
A semi that had been ahead of me, also unable to make a U-turn, backed up past me as I was getting the Tracker unhooked. He would have to back up some 3 miles to the pullout where I turned around.

A semi backing up along the Alaska Highway to escape the Snag wildfire, Yukon
I eventually went around the semi, then waited for him at the pullout to be sure he was okay. As he pulled in, I continued on towards Beaver Creek. When I reached the second roadblock, the RCMP officer was just closing it to move the roadblock right back to Beaver Creek.

Snag wildfire along the Alaska Highway, Yukon
By around 6:20 we were set up at the rest area by the Beaver Creek airport, from where there was a pretty good view of the fire. From what I had seen, I didn’t expect to be going anywhere for a couple of days.

The rest area by the Beaver Creek airport

Snag wildfire along the Alaska Highway as seen from Beaver Creek, Yukon

At 7:30 I unhooked the Tracker and drove back into Beaver Creek to take some photos, and to chat with the Highways guy manning the roadblock. I didn’t expect to get any information, and that was correct – everybody at this point was just guessing. A couple towing an Airstream trailer walked over and suggested that they might go around via the Taylor Highway and Dawson. I said I expected that waiting it out at Beaver Creek would be just as quick and a whole lot cheaper.

Snag wildfire roadblock at Beaver Creek, Yukon
I took a few more photos on the way back to the rest area where the RV was parked. Once one of the largest hotels in the Yukon, the Beaver Creek Westmark was closed in 2013, though rooms are available in a tiny corner of it now, run by the people who own the Beaver Creek RV Park next door.

The mostly-abandoned Beaver Creek Westmark hotel
I was nicely setled in for the night, reading a book, when there was more pounding on the door at 9:30 pm. An RCMP officer said he thought I was heading north but just in case that was wrong, he wanted to let me know that they were going to run a convoy through the fire zone in 10 minutes if I wanted to join. Yes, I did want to join! I got everything slid in, secured, and hooked up again, and was back to the roadblock a couple of minutes before the convoy of about 15 vehicles, from motorcycles to the semi, headed south at 9:45 pm.


I wish I could have gotten some photos as we drove through the fire zone with RCMP escorts front and rear. It was wild, with very thick smoke, and fire on both sides of the highway for a couple of miles.

Every pullout was full of vehicles that had been northbound. It was almost 10:30 pm when I finally found a spot to park for the night, with a broad view across the White River.

RV with a broad view across the White River, Yukon
Wildfires do create some spectacular sunsets. The next photo was shot at 10:32 pm.

Wildfire sunset along the Alaska Highway
The next morning, I was in no hurry to leave. Bella and Tucker were happy playing here, and there was no traffic on the highway. There’s no cell service in that area, so I had no idea what was going on with the fire now. The White River was sure raging due to the recent hot weather.

White River, Yukon
At about 9:30 am, we continued down the Alaska Highway, with the idea that I’d probably go home. I stopped briefly at the Koidern River Lodge, which was operated by Jim and Dorothy Cook until about 2010.

Koidern River Lodge, Yukon - closed in 2010
The former Pine Valley Lodge at Historic Mile 1147 has been bought by the Kluane First Nation to be used as a culture camp, so I stopped and took quite a few photos of its current state.

The former Pine Valley Lodge at Historic Mile 1147 of the Alaska Highway
A friend had recently told me that the Kluane Energy gas station at Burwash Landing was a good choice for fuel, and it was indeed. At $1.429 per liter it was 4 cents cheaper than the Talbot Arm a few miles away in Destruction Bay, but it’s also a 24-hour cardlock instead of having to leave your credit card with an attendant inside as at the Talbot Arm.

Kluane Energy gas station at Burwash Landing, Yukon

Kluane Energy gas station at Burwash Landing, Yukon

We stopped at the Kluane Lake pullout where we’d just spent 3 nights and played on the beach with the dogs for a bit. The smoke and heat wiped out the former good vibes, though, and I decided to go home.

Before leaving, I took Glass Monty down to the beach to shoot a few photos. I gathered up a small bag of fine gravel to take home, with the idea of building a base of it for Glass Monty.

My glass dog at Klane Lake, Yukon
When I arrived at the water with Glass Monty, I was met by about 20 tiny Western tailed Blue butterflies (Cupido amyntula). Their upper wing surfaces are a lovely blue colour, but I wasn’t able to get any photos of that.


We got home at about 6:00 pm – that had been quite an adventure!


A followup – once I got home, I found out that the fire was caused by lightning, pretty much as we laid down for our nap. On July 12th, Yukon Protective Services posted this aerial photo of Snag Junction Campground. When I got evacuated and saw what was bearing down on us, I thought there was no way they could save it. Pretty amazing work.

Snag Junction Campground, saved from a wildfire



Comments

A wildfire evacuation, and driving the Alaska Hwy back home — 7 Comments

  1. Amazing story. I enjoyed reading it. Great shots too. What an unexpected and scary excitement. When I read your stories I feel like I am there myself.
    Your fan and former tour guide Gerda from Vancouver.

  2. Such an amazing adventure and no one got hurt, which makes it even better. The fact that they were able to save Snag Junction Campground is a modern-day miracle. Excellent work indeed. I think your fire sunset photo is one of the best I’ve seen. The colours are so vivid. Thank you for your illustrated storytelling. I always look forward to your blog posts.

  3. Waiting in anticipation of this installment the scenario of a wildfire was not one I had thought we were going to get. Glad it turned out well.
    We stayed at the Westmark last year; those rooms are not nice at all; but it was cheap and much better then a tent as it rained hard during the night.
    We stopped at Kluane Energy at Burwash Landing. They had great coffee and the breakfast menu looked really good but we had already eaten.

  4. I just have to say I love all of your adventures and photos and I am in love with BC and the YUKON it does not get any better ….loved the Atlin Lake pics…Had a great plane ride out of Atlin with Guy Antilla and a great heel ride through the Stikine River Canyon many years ago with Jim Reed star of (Life on the Verticle) video ….just a magical magical place

  5. Murray, you opened my eyes to the complications of turning around at a roadblock when driving a massive vehicle. Additionally, there was limited space in which to move. Multiple big vehicles trying to turn around while a wildfire is approaching makes from some drama.

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