With 181 wildfires actively torching parts of the territory, the Yukon currently has three times the number of active fires than it typically sees over the course of a year, according to data provided by fire officials.
Data provided by Yukon Wildland Fire Management on July 12 shows the territory has experienced 242 fires so far in 2022, which is four times the annual average for the past decade.
That compares to the average number of fires over the last 10 years at 60 per year.
Last year the territory saw 43 fires in total, which means there has been more than five times as many fires so far this year.
More than four times the amount of land has burned this year in comparison to last year, with 130,024 hectares burned so far in 2022 and 31,424 hectares burned in all of 2021.
Fire crews from British Columbia have been called up to assist Yukon Wildland Fire Management as part of a request for assistance made through the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.
In a bulletin issued July 10 by Yukon Wildland Fire Management, a tenting camp fitted with kitchen facilities, warehouses and offices has been set up at Pelly Crossing to house a total of 165 firefighters and support staff. The bulletin indicates most of the staff housed there will be dealing with fires that have been impacting highway travel in the area.
The Yukon has 25 three-person initial attack crews from the territory and 18 initial attack crews from B.C. working to halt the spread of fires, according to the latest numbers from Yukon Wildland Fire Management. Five 20-person unit crews from B.C. and one Yukon First Nations Wildfire unit crew, four airtanker groups, 36 helicopters and a B.C. incident management team are also working to keep fires at bay.
Fire information officer Haley Ritchie of Yukon Wildland Fire Management explained that on the front lines of the Two Buttes fire, a relatively small four-hectare fire located southeast of Mayo, two crews were dropped off by helicopter in an area that had been doused with rain and was smouldering over the weekend.
Workers spent hours scoping out the perimeter of the fire searching for hot spots, such as heat and smoke, and using hand tools to dig those out in order to ensure they are extinguished so the fire does not reactivate and spread if it dries out again.
Other crews in other regions have pump systems in addition to hand tools to deal with fires.
“Rain has taken down a lot of fire activity, but our crews are still busy working and doing their jobs and getting things under control,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie said weather has had a “huge impact” on the fire situation.
“That very dry, hot, stormy weather pattern that was holding and causing so much trouble over the last week has broken up,” she said.
“Now we have a lower pressure system that’s bringing pretty widespread rain, which is really helping to control fire activity — to keep that down and give us time to catch up and get a lot of those fires under control or out.”
The recent precipitation has brought down the fire danger ratings in much of the region, as of the morning of July 13.
A July 13 bulletin advises the level two fire restriction that went into effect June 29 is being rescinded as a result of decreased fire activity and cooler, wetter conditions.
Despite the general levelling of fire threats across the board, Ritchie cautioned that it will take a lot of sustained rain to put out the risk.
“We’re not quite out of the woods yet,” she said.
An evacuation alert remains in place for Stewart Crossing due to wildfires.
The Silver Trail and surrounding areas, including Mayo, Keno, Elsa, Moose Creek Lodge and Victoria Gold Mine are no longer under an evacuation alert, as of the afternoon of July 12.
The Canadian Red Cross took over registration for emergency social services on July 8. Information officer Kara Johancsik of the Yukon’s Health Emergency Operations Centre said July 12 that Canadian Red Cross can be reached at 1-800-863-6582 for assistance with evacuations.
Ritchie said B.C.’s incident management team has taken over the battle with two fires that are still active but are not growing as quickly as before in the Crystal Creek area. Their goal is to protect the travel corridor along the North Klondike Highway, which reopened July 11 between Pelly Crossing and Stewart Crossing after being closed for a week due to fires and accompanying smoke.
Ritchie said the heat from the fires can stick around for an extended period of time, thus crews are working on “shoring that up” to prevent highway closures.
Ritchie is reminding residents and visitors to be mindful by treating crews working beside the highway as if it were a construction site.
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com