Fire officials urge safe burning

A fire in Watson Lake on Wednesday came dangerously close to several homes. "We were lucky and fortunate that we were able to catch it," said Mike Sparks with Wildland Fire Management.

A fire in Watson Lake on Wednesday came dangerously close to several homes.

“We were lucky and fortunate that we were able to catch it,” said Mike Sparks with Wildland Fire Management.

Residents had been burning brush on their property earlier in the month and thought that it had been extinguished.

But the fire continued to smoulder underground and reignited.

An officer with Wildland Fire Management was in the area, inspecting flood waters in Upper Liard, when he spotted the fire.

The residents were not home.

Wildland Fire Management and Watson Lake’s volunteer fire department quickly responded and put out the fire.

This fire season was slow to start, because of the cool late spring.

The first wildfire of the season, a human-caused spot fire near Yukon College, occurred on May 17, two weeks later than the first fire of the 2012 season.

This week’s Watson Lake fire was the second for this year.

But because the weather changed from cool to hot so quickly, the fire risk across the territory is quite high.

“Because of that cool start the actual green-up is just occurring now, so we’re still in some fairly volatile conditions,” said Sparks.

About half of the fires that Wildland responds to are human-caused.

Most of those are preventable, said Sparks.

Wildland Fire Management would like to remind people that all open burning, except for campfires, requires a permit between April 1 and September 30.

The Watson Lake residents had a permit for their fire.

Following the conditions of the permit is critical, said Sparks.

Permits are available from local fire management zone offices.

While campfires are permitted, they can also pose a problem when not extinguished properly, said Sparks.

Wildland responded to two calls involving abandoned campfires Wednesday, in addition to the Watson Lake fire, he said.

Inside of Whitehorse city limits, the rules for burning and campfires are different.

No open burning is permitted between April 1 and September 30.

Permits are required the rest of the year, and can be obtained from the fire department at city hall.

The only fires permitted within city limits during summer months are campfires in campgrounds or in approved backyard fire pits.

Guidelines on how to construct an acceptable fire pit are available at the Whitehorse Fire Department’s website.

Once the pit is constructed, residents are asked to call the fire department and have an officer inspect it.

After being approved the fire pit may be used, but residents are asked to notify the fire department each time they plan to light a backyard fire.

Clive Sparks, chief of the Whitehorse Fire Department, is urging residents to report any fires within city limits outside of designated fire pits.

The department responds to 70 to 100 calls regarding illegal burning each summer, he said.

He would also like to remind residents that fireworks are not allowed in the city of Whitehorse without a permit.

Permits are only available for professional fireworks displays.

The fire department is on high alert this time of year because of graduation parties and other bush gatherings that have, in recent years, gotten out of hand, said Sparks.

“We have had one firefighter injured once with people throwing beer bottles at them, fire truck damages, those sorts of things.”

When partygoers are unruly the RCMP must be called in as well to make sure the fire is safely extinguished, he said.

“It’s an expensive proposition when you have to call in two or three agencies to deal with that type of a situation that has got out of hand.”

Any wildfire or suspicious burning activity should be reported to 911 or the local fire department.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at