Whitehorse testing new wildfire prevention strategy: burn stuff

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Whitehorse testing new wildfire prevention strategy: burn stuff

The City of Whitehorse is preparing for the wildfire season — by starting some fires.

The city is partnering with the Yukon government to do controlled burns along Long Lake Road, in an attempt to reduce the potential for human-caused wildfires.

"That's one area that we are concerned about and that we do go out to," said Keith Fickling, a regional manager with Yukon's Wildland Fire Management team.

"In the last three years, I can think of two wildland fires that were caused along the Long Lake Road, in that vicinity. Both of them were caused by stolen vehicles, actually."

Controlled or prescribed burns are commonly used in many other jurisdictions to remove "fuel" that could feed a wildfire. 

The Long Lake controlled burn will happen over 34 hectares. Officials will set fire to mostly grass and brush along the road and near the Whitehorse sewage lagoons.   

"This is a fairly easy option for us to reach without any additional expenditure for the city," said Whitehorse Fire Chief Kevin Lyslo. "It's a good training opportunity for Wildland Fire [Management], and very easy for us to do."

He said the city looked at other options, such as enhancing the FireSmart program or widening roads and trails, but ultimately decided a controlled burn would be the most cost effective way to reduce fuel around the road. 

'We have to get more aggressive'

It's a pilot project and if it goes well, the strategy may be applied to other areas of the city in the future.

Whitehorse city councillor Dan Boyd applauds the efforts. He points to the disastrous fires in Slave Lake and Fort McMurray, Alta. as warnings. 

"We have to change our ways, we have to get more aggressive, we have to use more tools in our tool kit in order to manage the fuels around our community," he said.

He notes that prescribed burns are not without risk, but says "the risks are much, much greater if we don't start doing this type of fuel management around our communities."

The Long Lake Road burns are expected to happen between now and mid-May.