Forest fire hits downtown Whitehorse

Teams of firefighters doused a small blaze along the city's clay cliffs on Monday. Wildland Fire officials noticed smoke coming from the cliffs in the afternoon and immediately dispatched their crews and city firefighters.

Teams of firefighters doused a small blaze along the city’s clay cliffs on Monday.

Wildland Fire officials noticed smoke coming from the cliffs in the afternoon and immediately dispatched their crews and city firefighters.

They arrived as a group of children were fleeing the scene.

The fire was quickly extinguished, but it could have had “serious potential,” said Mike Sparks, supervisor of wildfire operations.

It was the latest in a series of human-caused fires that kept officials busy. Over the weekend, fires flared up near Haeckel Hill and close to the Grey Mountain cemetery.

Five fires have hit the Yukon so far. Four have been caused by people.

Fire danger remains moderate throughout the territory—except in Dawson, where a dry spell has swung conditions to “extreme.”

Carmacks hosted the territory’s first lightning-caused fire on Monday.

The territory’s 22 “fire attack” groups expect an average season, which means Yukoners can anticipate around 158 fires.

“We’re not expecting it to be a super hot summer, nor are we expecting it to similar to last year, where it was fairly cool and wet,” said Sparks.

However, across the border, 17 fires have erupted in Alaska forests.

Alaska typically acts as a crystal ball for the Yukon fire season: if Alaska’s burning, the Yukon usually isn’t far behind.

Extreme snowfall during the winter may have delayed the coming of the fire season, but “really doesn’t affect” forest fires in the long term, said Sparks.

Fire obeys no borders, so US and Canadian fire officials are often working together.

A 300-hectare blaze is currently surging towards Chicken, Alaska. Two Yukon airtankers have already been dispatched to contain the blaze.

Fire officials call these cross-border raids a “splash and dash.”

Of course, the vastness of the Yukon boreal forest makes extinguishing every fire impossible.

When fires erupt in wilderness areas far from people or property, they are generally left to run their course. If small human settlements are in the area, fire officials will sometimes dispatch a “sprinkler crew” to protect the structures without disturbing the fire.

Fire is natural, and if you don’t let it run its course insects become more plentiful, fuel builds up and fires can become catastrophic when they finally erupt, said Sparks.

A computerized map allows Wildland Fire officials to keep tabs on blazes across the territory.

Using the system, officials can immediately pinpoint the location of a fire and determine if nearby communities are in danger.

The system also provides up-to-date information on the positions of every firefighting aircraft.

Similar positioning technology saved the life of an Alberta pilot last summer, said Sparks.

After a firefighting aircraft plummeted into a lake outside Grande Prairie, positioning technology allowed rescuers to quickly locate the fallen plane—just as it began to sink with its pilot strapped aboard.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com

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