Canaada — Yukoners are being urged to take extra care with their barbecues and even their cigarettes this long weekend, with hot and dry conditions keeping forest-fire danger ratings extremely high in most of the territory.
Twenty-one new wildfires started in the Yukon on Thursday alone, with 18 of them sparked by lightning in the Watson Lake area, from south of Frances Lake to Simpson Lake.
Some of the blazes grew to over 100 hectares in size within an hour, fire officials said.
“With this fire behaviour on the Watson Lake fires, within 15 minutes these fires were raging open flame. And it’s fortunate that the lightning activity didn’t go through the community,” Yukon fire information officer George Maratos told CBC News on Friday.
“A lot of these fires are in more remote areas, but it’s very dry out there and yeah, the conditions are volatile.”
Maratos said a number of the fires burning in Watson Lake are close to the Robert Campbell Highway, so fire officials have closed a portion of the road from north of the local airport to Ross River.
Fire officials are working with RCMP and highways staff to reopen that section of the highway as soon as possible. Motorists can check the 511Yukon.ca website for the latest road conditions.
Forest fire smoke may also create occasional delays on the other end of the Robert Campbell Highway near Carmacks.
Fire ban still in effect
In addition to the Watson Lake-area blazes, forest fires were also reported Thursday in Whitehorse, Old Crow and Teslin. Lightning is believed to have started the Old Crow and Teslin fires.
Firefighters quickly put out the wildfire in the Whitehorse area, reported Thursday afternoon near Chadburn Lake.
Officials said they believed people started that fire, which is of particular concern because there’s currently a ban on campfires and other open fires across the Yukon.
“With conditions forecast to be continued to be hot and dry across the territory, and the fire danger rating at the extreme level in almost every fire district, fire officials are urging the public to abide by the current open-fire ban and limit their burning to barbecue and closed-lid stoves. And even then, do so with extreme caution,” Maratos said.
‘It’s that dry out there’
It has been hot and sunny throughout the Yukon all week, with daytime temperatures in the 30 C range. The mercury hit 29 C in Whitehorse on Friday afternoon.
Environment Canada is forecasting some showers and slightly cooler temperatures for the weekend, but Maratos said that won’t necessarily lower the fire danger.
“In exchange for the lower temperatures, [there’s] a little bit of an increase in the winds and some scattered lightning. So with that, we are preparing for an increased activity this weekend,” he said.
“We can’t say it enough, just for the public to do their part. Butt out the cigarettes, even. It’s that dry out there.”
All existing forest fires in the Yukon grew on Thursday because of the hot and dry weather, with smoke visible in the central and northern parts of the territory.
A total 89 forest fires have been reported in the Yukon this season. Nearly 110,500 hectares of forest have been burned as a result.