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Yukoners told to be prepared for floods and wildland fire season

Floods and fire personelle spoke to the current risks of both weather events in the coming months.
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Flood and fire risk and potential were discussed April 29. Yukoners were told to be prepared in the event of either a flood or a fire. Submitted Photo/B.C. Wildfire Service

A virtual news briefing was held to inform the public on the flood forecast, as well as the wildfire seasonal outlook for the upcoming flood and fire season in the territory.

Speaking on flooding was Holly Goulding, resources branch senior scientist of hydrology.

There has been an above-average snowpack in many basins across the territory, she said in her presentation. This will lead to a high potential for high flows and levels in rivers and lakes.

The upcoming weather conditions will influence the occurrence of high flows and water levels.

“The higher-than-average snowpack does increase the probability for high spring flows and higher-than-average lake levels this summer,” said Goulding.

In an April bulletin, a flood risk report for communities was issued resulting from breakup, spring freshet, and glacier melt.

“This indicated a high potential for Upper Liard given the large snowpack there,” said Goulding. “And, moderate potential for Carmacks, Pelly, Ross River and Teslin.

“Included in this forecast is a high probability for high water levels in the Southern Lakes this summer.”

Goulding did say that these predictions are low confidence.

The warmer water in April had the rivers rising gradually, then the rate increased. The cooler weather has since slowed runoff.

“Maximum water levels will depend on runoff rates and that is ultimately determined by spring weather,” said Goulding. “The timing and severity of spring temperatures and rainfall are important drives of flooding regardless of the snowpack.

“The ideal scenario is the continuation of the progressive melting we’ve had so far that can help extend the snowmelt period. If we see rapid warmers or significant rainfall that would compress the snowmelt period and could lead to flooding in some systems.”

Yukoners should prepare for fire risk

Caleb Tomlinson, wildland fire manager of operations, spoke to the potential for wildland fires in the territory.

From April through June, Tomlinson said the temperature forecast shows a 40 to 80 per cent chance of below-average temperatures.

“If we consider what that might tell us about the fire season coming up, unfortunately, it doesn’t tell us much,” said Tomlinson. “The reason is even if we are confident in some degree of below normal temperature, the story of the fire season will be told by how many fires we have and where those fires are.”

No matter where the territory sits in the fire season, Tomlinson said it is important to consider that conditions can change quickly.

“We can go from a low fire danger scenario to a high or extreme fire danger in about 10 days,” said Tomlinson.

Tomlinson also pointed out that high snowpack doesn’t impact fire season predictions.

“We are only ever 10 days from potentially extreme fire behaviour, we don’t have reason to believe we are in for a slow fire season because it is a high snowpack this year,” he said.

Both Goulding and Tomlinson noted that conditions will change quickly and the information given today can be different tomorrow. The message to all Yukoners was to be prepared.

“In the current season of snowmelt people can move snow away from the foundation of their home, cleaning out eavestroughs, and route the snowmelt in a way that doesn’t impact your personal property or your neighbours,” said Diarmuid O’Donovan, emergency measures organization director.

In areas prone to flooding, O’Donovan recommended removing valuables from basements and shoring up lower foundations with sandbags.

For fire, there are steps people can take to FireSmart their homes without an immediate fire on the horizon.

“When you look at emergencies that have happened throughout the country, the vast majority of homes lost to fires, are not lost because of a big flame front that burns over a neighbourhood so much as they are from embers that have flown off and ignited on your property,” said Mike Fancie, wildland fire management community engagement officer.

“The FireSmart program encourages people to take action around our homes so these risks are reduced as much as possible. That is the single most important thing we can do to prepare for a wildfire.”

O’Donovan said it is important to remember that we live in an environment that can be impacted by both floods and wildfires, amongst other emergencies.

“Knowing that is the case, the key message is to be prepared,” said O’Donovan. “Have a 72-hour emergency kit and have an emergency plan.”

Contact John Tonin at john.tonin@yukon-news.com