With extreme heat continuing to feed an increasing number of wildfires in northern Canada, Yukon authorities say some residents must prepare to evacuate within two hours of notification, while in the Northwest Territories a government with stretched resources has asked locals to do their part to prevent unnecessary fires.
As of Saturday, 161 fires were burning in the Yukon, with at least six communities under evacuation alert in the face of what the government has described as “unpredictable, dangerous fire behaviour,” reports CBC News. By Sunday, news reports had more territory in the NWT lost to fire so far this year than in the entire 2021 season, while the Yukon faced historic fire activity, five times last year’s pace and well above the 25-year average.
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With a 100-person wildfire crew from British Columbia now in place to assist, and more help on the way, MLA Jeremy Harper from Mayo—one of the communities under evacuation alert—said his constituents now have “adequate” resources to face their current fire fight. He told CBC the B.C. crew will be dispatched to different locations to put up sprinkler systems or brims around some properties.
Harper said he’s making a particular effort to keep in touch with First Nations. “Our leadership is relaying a lot of good information to citizens so that they’re always updated,” he told CBC.
Such reassurance comes just over a year after affected First Nations communities condemned the “slow and chaotic response” to the wildfire that burned the town of Lytton, B.C. to the ground.
While temperatures are forecast to drop slightly in coming days, authorities say they worry the onset of strong winds will further fan existing flames.
Meanwhile, in the Northwest Territories, latest reports put the number of fires burning at 67, with multiple highway and ferry closures now in place. While most of the fires in the territory have been caused by lightning, one began with a spark from a hand-held bear-banger. In another case, crews had to move quickly to suppress an abandoned beach fire.
NWT wildfire information officer Mike Westwick told CBC that with the fire hazard rated extreme, the Department of Environment and Nature Resources is “calling on residents to do everything they can” to keep from adding to the burden on wildfire crews.
While no communities are under evacuation notice as yet, smoke alerts have been issued for many areas, with air quality and visibility sharply reduced across much of the region.
The NWT’s battle against extreme heat and burgeoning wildfire comes as preliminary estimates put the cost of flood damage repairs to the territory’s second-largest community, Hay River, at C$22 million. Flood mitigation will cost another $30 million.
Repairs and mitigation for the town’s water treatment plant make up a big chunk of the projected costs, reports CBC, with repairs totalling about $10 million and mitigation clocking in at an additional $20 million. Other big-ticket items include $320,000 to fix local roads and $310,000 to repair the local landfill.
Citing “unprecedented damage” and record numbers of exhausted and worried residents seeking financial help, the NWT government has also changed its Disaster Assistance Policy, in place since 1981 to help individuals and businesses with no insurance coverage. CBC reports that while eligible claims were formerly reimbursed at 80% to a maximum of $100,000, the updated policy covers 90% of eligible claims up to $240,000.
NWT Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs Shane Thompson said the policy will be treated as a living document. “Every year, as disasters happen or don’t happen, we look at our policy to see how we can better improve.”
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