In recent years, news of devastating fires in the Arctic regions of Russia, the U.S. and Canada have repeatedly dominated the headlines. And this year, it seems to be particularly bad. After the tundra and forest and scrub areas in numerous regions of Alaska were and are on fire, the neighboring Canadian territories of Yukon and the Northwest Territories are also reporting record fires.
Both the Yukon Territory, which borders Alaska, and the Northwest Territories NWT to the east reported new records in burned areas earlier this week. A total of more than 3,360 square kilometers on 164 fires have burned in the NWT, according to authorities, and more than 1,300 square kilometers on 244 fires in Yukon as well. In both territories, this represents the largest known areas and the largest recorded number of fires to date.
Both regions had been experiencing extreme drought for a long time and also above-average temperatures in recent weeks. This favoured the high number of fires, many of which were likely started by carelessness as many of the fires started close to transit infrastructure and communities, a spokeswoman for Yukon rescue authorities told the media. This statement is also evident on maps showing the fires, which depict the situation in a timely manner. The same maps from the authorities also show that the more remote locations in the north of the two regions do not have as many wildfires. But the known fires are burning in larger areas. “That’s actually a good thing, to have those fires in the wilderness,” the spokeswoman tells Canada’s CBC. ” Because it’s an ecological process.” Areas in the far north are also burning less frequently in the NWT, but are covering a larger area. One of the largest fires raged near Tuktut Nogait National Park in the northeast, devastating some 24,500 hectares of tundra. Such fires are probably triggered by lightning strikes caused by heavy thunderstorms.
Due to the fact that many of the fire sources are located near settlements or infrastructure, the protective forces of the individual territories have to go out more frequently and for longer periods of time. In addition, camps have to be set up in order to have the firefighters closer to the sources of the fires. As a result, the authorities in the regions are reaching the limits of their capacity. Fortunately, firefighting teams are available from other provinces and territories less affected by fire. For example, authorities in Yukon could also count on firefighters from neighboring British Columbia.
Meanwhile, rainfalls in some of the western regions have helped put out or control the fires. But wildfires are still burning in many parts of NWT and further south. And even in areas where flames are no longer visible, fires could continue to smolder in the ground and break out again if conditions are right. All it will take is periods of heat and drought again. And according to experts, these are becoming more and more frequent.
Dr. Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
Featured image: Yukon Protective Services
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