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Fire danger stalls Whistler construction

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A blazing inferno rages across the northern end of the Sea to Sky region, but impacts of the recent drought are being felt on construction sites closer to Whistler.

The fire at Tyaughton Lake has grown to 2,000 hectares, forcing evacuation orders at all properties north of the intersection of Tyaughton Lake Road and Gun Creek Road. Evacuation alerts remain in effect for Gun Lake, Gold Bridge and Bralorne and the regional government is updating dozens of locals with regular community meetings.

Shifting winds have blown a haze across the corridor, with smoke from the fire billowing above Whistler and as far south as Squamish. Asthmatics in Pemberton are being advised to carry their inhalers with them whenever going outside.

In the very centre of the corridor, the Whistler Fire Rescue Service has elevated the fire danger rating to "High" - halting all campfires, controlled burns and backyard burning in the area and putting a stop to all afternoon construction near forests.

In a notice issued May 30 Whistler Fire Rescue has informed all excavation and blasting companies that construction activity within 10 metres of forests must stop at 1 p.m. each day. Failure to comply could result in possible fines or even complete shutdowns of job sites.

"We've been at high since May 30," said Michele Rideout, a clerk with Whistler Fire Rescue Service. "Then we need two consecutive days of a moderate danger rating and then everything can go back to normal.

"Chances are if it's high it's not going to skip moderate and go low unless we get total rainstorm for I don't know how long."

Rideout added that construction in forest interface areas can resume at 9 a.m. on any given workday but it must cease by lunchtime. She also said in a Thursday interview that the rating is expected to stay at high through to Friday.

The Cheakamus Crossing development, better known as the Whistler Athletes' Village, is located close to Whistler's Community Forest but Whistler Development Corporation President Joe Redmond said the afternoon embargo on construction won't impact the work there.

"It really doesn't because in all cases we're more than 10 metres away from the forest," he said. "Most of the buildings are complete and most of the work is on the inside of the buildings now."

Nevertheless, Redmond said all contractors on the site have been notified of the fire hazard and that there are fire stations around the site.

"We have a fire hydrant system through the whole site now, so we're virtually like any finished subdivision," he said.

The Rainbow at Whistler neighbourhood, which is currently under construction, is also located close to a forested area. Representatives with the development didn't return phone calls at press time.

Further up the corridor, Pemberton is on alert for fire hazards. It currently rests at moderate according to the Kamloops Fire Centre, but Pemberton Fire Rescue is taking no chances and has disallowed any type of burning within its boundaries.

That means no burning of yard debris or fires of any kind. Pemberton Fire Chief Russell Mack says authorities are even asking people to be careful about campfires.

"We try to really curtail that within the village boundaries just because it is so dry," he said. "Even (bonfires) in people's backyards, fly ash goes all over the place. Hopefully we'll have rain on Monday or Tuesday. We could do with a week of heavy rain but I don't' think that's going to happen."

If there are any further evacuations from the Tyaughton Lake area Pemberton can receive people over the Hurley forest service road. A reception centre will then arrange places for people to stay and wait out the fire.

"We're all geared up and ready to go if asked," Mack said.

Meanwhile, the emergency reception centre in Lillooet hasn't had a visitor since Monday but those who've sought its services were in "pretty good form" according to Bob Hall, emergency program coordinator with the District of Lillooet.

He suspects that evacuees likely haven't sought out the centre's help because they're staying in Gold Bridge or another area that's not under an immediate evacuation order.

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