WHITEHORSE, Yukon Territory - The record-setting wildfire season of this past summer almost spelled disaster for the 2005 Yukon Quest sled dog race.
Intense blazes in both Alaska and the Yukon Territory damaged the forest's root system, making the trees more susceptible to blow-downs.
"And for some magical reason, trees always fall on trails," said Stephen Reynolds, manager of the Yukon's Quest's Whitehorse office.
Over the last few months, severe windstorms have knocked down hundreds of trees along the Quest trail that stretches from Whitehorse to Fairbanks. On the Yukon side, between Whitehorse and Dawson City, there are three areas of Quest trail affected by fires, making those regions the most likely to have knocked-over trees.
In Alaska, the damage may be even worse. Four fires joined together to take out root systems in the Circle and Central regions, said Reynolds, who is waiting for the Alaskan half of the trail to be scouted out by a contracted pilot.
"From what our race manager has been able to see from the highway, it (Alaska) doesn't seem to be as bad as we thought, but we'd like to get some aerial views of the trail just to be sure," he said.
The mess on Canada's half will cost the Quest an extra $20,000 to clean up. That would have been a calamity for the organization had it not received money from the territory's Community Development Fund.
Reynolds said had the race's funding application been denied, extra fund-raising would have been required to pay for the clean up.
"And we'd like to be able to spend that (fund-raising) time doing other things to prepare for the race," he said.
The clean up will involve sending contracted crews into the three Yukon fire areas. The crews will then remove any fallen trees or trees that look like they're about to fall.
The Quest organization will also be contracting an airplane to fly overhead and observe any additional trail damage outside of the three fire regions that may have to be cleaned up.
Reynolds said Quest teams will go out in late January and lay the trail again.
"That's when we'll find out whether December or January windstorms have brought down any additional trees," he said.
Trees falling down during the race are also a concern, said Reynolds. That's why the Canadian Rangers travel four to 12 hours ahead of dog sledders during the race to make sure the trail is clean.
"You just never know when a tree is going to come down in the forest," Reynolds said.
Quest mushers are expected to start the race from Whitehorse on Feb. 13.
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