Whitehorse grapples with impacts of record-breaking warm weather

Whitehorse has started controlled burns weeks earlier than normal, and at the same time city council is considering declaring a climate change emergency.

City launches controlled burns, council considers climate change emergency

Firefighters measure wind and humidity conditions before a test burn on April 2. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Controlled burns to prevent forest fires have begun three weeks earlier than usual in Whitehorse.

"We've been starting to worry a little bit faster this year," said Chris Green, deputy chief for the Whitehorse Fire Department. "Things are a lot drier and the moisture content is evaporating a lot faster so it is a bit of a concern."

Crews from the city and Yukon Wildland Fire Management are burning dried grasses and ground fuels that are vulnerable to fire.

Every year people see these controlled burns and call them in, thinking it's an emergency, says Green.

"We want to make sure the public knows that this is something that we're doing in a controlled way. It's not something that is being let loose and running free," he said.

Warm weather breaks 95 Yukon records

The ramp up of fire prevention efforts is the result of an unseasonably early spring.

Warm weather in communities across Yukon seared 95 new temperature records into the books for the month of March.
Grass has been dry this year as an early snow melt has left it exposed. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Whitehorse city councillor Steve Roddick was already feeling the heat, but Monday's leak of a federal climate report that says Northern Canada is warming almost three times faster than the global average compelled him to act.

On Monday night, he asked council if Whitehorse should declare a climate change emergency.

"Given the severity and scale of this challenge, are we doing enough to make sure that the city can cope with the economic environmental and social impacts of climate change?" He said.

"Are we doing enough to encourage low carbon development and transportation in our city?" 

Declaring a climate change emergency

Dry grass is removed as part of a controlled burn in Whitehorse (Philippe Morin/CBC)
A growing list of Canadian cities — big and small — have recently declared climate change emergencies.

The motion is not a state of emergency, and doesn't free up extra funds, but it would make the issue a high priority for the municipality, and could mandate action.

"If not now, then when?" said Roddick, in an interview with CBC on Tuesday. "If we don't do something now, we're in big trouble."

He intends to make his formal notice of motion next week. If all goes according to plan, city council could vote on the declaration as early as April 22.

This year six sites have been chosen for the first controlled burns within the City of Whitehorse.

  • A trail south of Booth Road
  • Space near the Whitehorse Cadet Training Centre
  • The side of Long Lake Road
  • The side of Range Road
  • The Old Takhini gravel pit  
  • The side of the South Access highway

Work is dependent on weather and will continue throughout the next week.