The Yukon may not see a lot of wildfires this spring, according to Mike Smith, Wildland Fire Management chief meteorologist, during a virtual briefing on the flood forecast and a wildfire seasonal outlook for 2023 on April 20.
“Once the snow melts, we are not looking at any potential for large or difficult wildfires in the territory,” he said. “Once we do have snow melt occurring, we won’t be right in a period where we have potential for bad fires. Yukoners will probably not be thinking of fire too much right away.”
However, the seasonal outlook shows that while risks for large fires are small for the early season after snowmelt, that doesn’t mean the territory won’t see much fire throughout the whole wildfire season which typically runs from April to October.
There are other factors to consider in the coming weeks or months that may cause problems for fire or floods, Smith said.
“We are looking at the possibilities of how the snow is going to melt. Will it be a steady melt or do we expect it to wrap up rapidly where everything will melt at once?”
Smith said another consideration is trying to get a picture of when the snow may melt and how dead trees in the forest are going to be saturated or dried right away to lead to potential fire this season.
“Our large fire risk this year is pretty small,” he said.
To “strengthen public safety and provide information” regarding potential fire impacts, the Yukon government announced April 20 it has launched an online wildfire hub. This followed feedback the government received during the 2022 wildfire season and builds on improvements made to the wildfire map last year.
The online hub will make it easier to access information about wildfire situations in the territory and the impacts they pose to residents and travelers, according to a government release. It also provides information about individual wildfires, wildfire season statistics, fire danger ratings, wildfire smoke, highway delays and fires near your location.
In the release, the government said that keeping people safe while strengthening the territory’s long-term response to wildfires is a priority.
“The hub is a series of online tools addressing common questions about wildfires across the Yukon,” the statement read.
“It provides an overall picture of the fire situation, as well as details about specific issues like smoke sources, highway delays and active fires within a given area.”
The wildfire hub can be accessed from Yukon.ca/wildfires.
The statement added the hub provides “valuable context about how the government manages fires to maintain public safety near communities while preserving the natural role that fire plays in wilderness areas of the boreal forest.”
Minister of Community Services Richard Mostyn said “providing prompt and precise information about wildfires is important for residents of the territory to make informed decisions regarding safety and seasonal plans,” adding that the hub is an “important tool that we are offering to make this information readily available.”
During his presentation on flood potential assessment in the territory, Anthony Bier, the acting senior hydrologist at the water resources branch, said the territory expects to record average snowpack in April.
Bier said there is near average snowpack in April across the southern and eastern part of the territory.
The north and west parts of the territory have above average snowpack. The highest snowpack is in the Beaver Creek area.
He said localized snowmelt flooding issues could still be problematic given high groundwater.
“Flood potential is low for communities but small water courses in some locations have the potential for significant flows,” he said. “Groundwater flooding could be an issue for some people this year.”
Central Yukon and White River basins, he said, are ordinarily very dry so “while their relative snowpack is the highest, their absolute snowpack is still the lowest,” he said.
Bier said this was different in 2021 when there was record snowpack in the south, followed by 2022, which broke many records in many locations, resulting in a rise in water levels and flooding in many communities.
After assessment, Bier said ice jams may generate a significant rise in water levels and water may start flowing out of the river channel, causing flooding and damage, but added that he will continue to monitor conditions daily throughout the flood season and will issue advisories as necessary.
Greg Blackjack, director of the Emergency Measures Organization (EMO), discussed the government’s role in emergency response coordination in the territory, in addition to guides on community and individual preparedness to emergencies.
Blackjack said EMO works with partners to coordinate and prepare for the upcoming season. This includes seasonal readiness meetings and off-season emergency training, planning and tabletop exercises.
“We build some internal training capacity to be able to support communities in response to emergencies,” he said.
In preparation for emergencies, EMO has been supplying equipment and response materials across the territory since January to community facilities and highway camps.
About 500,000-700,000 sandbags, 20,000 superbags and 800 feet of Tiger dams have been shipped to communities.
Blackjack said two sandbagging machines in Whitehorse are ready to be shipped to communities, noting that agreements are in place to procure more flood response materials as needed.
“We have been interacting with communities about the upcoming season and to see what additional supplies they need,” he said. “We are also working on emergency management planning and making sure that communities are getting the right information from experts to prepare and protect themselves.”
Blackjack said the EMO has a phone line which is monitored 24/7 that communities can call on for support during an incident.
He added that the agency may activate the Emergency Coordination Centre to coordinate response.
EMO is planning seasonal preparedness campaigns through April and May with emphasis on ground water flooding, Blackjack said.
On May 6, the agency is holding the Community Wildfire Preparedness Day while the Emergency Preparedness Week runs from May 7 to 13.
“We all have a role in making sure we are prepared for emergencies,” he said.
Contact Patrick Egwu at email@example.com