It’s shaping up to be a busy fire season

This time last year, there had not yet been a single wildfire in season. Already this year there have been five, all of them started by humans. That's worrying for wildfire officials.

This time last year, there had not yet been a single wildfire in season. Already this year there have been five, all of them started by humans.

That’s worrying for wildfire officials. Not only are human-caused fires completely preventable, they are almost always started close to communities or other property.

Last year there were only 21 wildfires started by humans during the entire season.

“People are usually pretty good about being responsible,” said Mike Etches, director of Wildland Fire Management, at a news conference on Thursday.

Last weekend members of the public acted quickly to help extinguish a fire near Hidden Lakes. It was caused by two campfires that were abandoned and not properly extinguished.

Open campfires are illegal within Whitehorse city limits.

While fire officials thanked those people for their assistance, they recommend leaving firefighting to the professionals.

“If they do want to initially attack fires, they’re going to have to switch out their CamelBaks for the five-gallon cans that we carry around while attacking fires,” said Etches.

“I don’t know if they want to go for the style change or the weight that that would…” he trailed off. “That was a joke. We don’t encourage the public to go fight fires.”

Meteorologists are predicting a warmer than average summer in the Yukon, which could mean a busier firefighting season.

Last year the season was quite busy, although not because there were an abnormally large number of fires, but because so many of those fires happened to ignite close to communities.

Wildland Fire does not fight fires that pose no threat to people or property. Wildfires are a natural and healthy part of a forest ecosystem.

Officials are relying less on fire spotting towers, as more and more fires are being reported by the public, thanks to increased cellphone access and coverage.

Thirty-five per cent of fires are reported by the public, compared with only seven per cent by staff at fire towers, said George Maratos, a fire information officer.

Three years ago Wildland Fire moved from nine manned fire towers in the territory to six.

The three unmanned towers are still standing, and could be staffed if the fire danger warranted it, he said.

The remaining six will be staffed five days on, two days off, when the fire danger rating is low, said Maratos. If the danger rating is moderate, high or extreme, the towers will be staffed seven days a week.

Members of the public are encouraged to report smoke and wildfire sightings to 1-888-798-FIRE (3473).

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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