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BURNING forest – Fire activity is seen north of Watson Lake last month. Photo courtesy YUKON WILDLAND FIRE MANAGEMENT

JULIANNE STANFORD   SKAGWAY NEWS

By Chuck Tobin
Whitehorse Star

It’s been an unusual season for forest fires.

Mike Etches, director of Yukon Wildland Fire Management, said Tuesday it looked like it could be a troubling fire season when May rolled around.

The snow-free days arrived this past spring earlier than normal. The Yukon River at Dawson City broke up early.

“It looked like a lot of potential, but it really petered out,” Etches said in an interview.

“Other than a couple of fires up in Dawson, it was a pretty quiet season.”

Contracts for 53 of the 63 seasonal firefighters across the territory ended last Friday, as is normal practice. Contracts for the 11 crew leaders will end Sept. 30.

Both air tanker groups left the Yukon earlier this month.

Etches said officials have adequate resources to respond in the unlikely event late-season issues arise.

But the fire danger rating across most of the territory is low.

As well, the forest fuels remain generally wet, as they have been most of the summer, he said.

Etches said a couple of hot spots linger, though the forecast for those areas is for more rain later this week.

The territory’s fire season usually does not go much beyond the first week of August, he said.

“But if it does happen, we can gear up and deal with it as necessary.”

Fire information officer George Maratos said Tuesday there have been 51 wildfires this summer. Twenty-three were human-caused, while 28 were started by lightning.

A total of 16,376 hectares have been burned compared to 169,915 last year, when 182 wildfires were recorded, he pointed out.

Maratos said the fire suppression cost in 2015 rang in at $16.4 million, or $10 million more than the standard summer suppression budget of $6.5 million.

Suppression costs account for additional overtime and aircraft requirements, but do not include regular seasonal wages and such, he pointed out.

Maratos said it’s too early for a financial accounting of this season’s budget, but it’s looking like spending will be well within what was expected.

The 2004 fire season was the worst in recent memory, when 270 fires burned 1.54 million hectares.

That year, the Yukon spent more than three times its annual suppression budget, or $22.3 million, he pointed out.

While it was quiet in the territory, a crew of 30 firefighters was sent to Alberta in for two weeks in May to assist in the wake of the devastating Fort McMurray inferno.

Etches said the territory did see its share of lightning, but it was usually accompanied with ample rain.

Also helping to keep down fire activity was the high amount of relative humidity the territory experienced through the summer, he said.

Etches said it’s been muggy, Toronto-muggy, which is not typical of the conditions for the territory’s normally arid climate.

When the relative humidity stays high, fire activity remains low, he said.