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Fire danger stalls Whistler construction

Tyaughton Lake fire continues to grow



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

The fire at Tyaughton Lake has grown to 40 square kilometres, forcing evacuation orders at Tyaughton Lake, Gun Creek Road, Mud Creek and Marshall, Liza and Carol Lakes. Evacuation alerts remain in effect for Gun Lake, Gold Bridge and Bralorne. The whole of Electoral Area A of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District is in a state of emergency.

There are 200 firefighters on the ground and 13 helicopters trying to suppress the blaze. 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 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 areas can resume at 9 a.m. on any given workday but it must cease by around lunchtime. She also said in an interview that the rating is expected to stay at high through to Friday.

The Cheakamus Crossing development, also 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 high according to Pemberton Fire Rescue and there is a ban on open fires.

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.

The next community information meeting about the wildfire will be held at the Gold Bridge Community Centre on June 11 at 7 p.m.