Canada wildfires send thick haze to Juneau

More than 60 fires burn in Yukon Territory

Posted: Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Lifelong Juneau resident Dean Williams, 91, can't recall a hazier time in town than Monday.

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Courtesy Of Yukon Wildland Fire Management
Courtesy Of Yukon Wildland Fire Management

"I've seen quite a bit of smoke at different times, but probably this can be just as bad as any of them," he said of the haze caused by wildfires burning in Canada.

George Maratos, a fire information officer with the Yukon Territory government, said dozens of wildfires have sprouted up in his region in the past several days. Most of them were started by lightning.

"In total we've had about 45 fires since Thursday night," he said Monday. "All of a sudden we're getting a bunch of activity. We've gone from just over 60 fires a week ago to now we're at 107 (this season)."

It was the hottest July on record in the Yukon's history. Combined with minimal precipitation, the weather has created a recipe for fire, Maratos said. Right now, there are more than 60 fires burning in the territory, he said.

"Whitehorse is blanketed (with smoke) right now, as is Dawson City and Watson Lake and Teslin - much of our territory," Maratos said. "That is the case in Haines and obviously in Juneau too."

The fires range in size, but most of them are in wilderness zones that have little property or few communities at risk, Maratos said.

"They do tend to grow in size because we do let them burn naturally, so that's creating a significant amount of smoke that is visible in much of the territory and parts of Alaska, too," he said.

Aaron Jacobs, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Juneau, said the smoke in town should begin to dissipate over the next several days. The forecast calls for dry, smoky days through the week with small amounts of precipitation expected during the weekend, he said.

The amount of smoke in parts of Southeast Alaska led the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to issue an air quality advisory in effect through noon Wednesday. The elderly, children and anyone with respiratory illness such as asthma or with heart disease, should avoid exposure, DEC meteorologist Cindy Dettmer-Shea said. People may begin to notice some level of irritation to their eyes, nose and throat and are cautioned to limit their outdoor activities if that is the case, she said.

"If you notice that is bothering you, take it easy," Dettmer-Shea said. "Maybe wait a day to mow your lawn or something if you're outside and getting bothered by it. Anyone noticing it that is extra sensitive should take it easy and stay inside."

Williams said he spent about half an hour painting outside at his downtown house above the Evergreen Cemetery before deciding to go back inside.

"It doesn't have me to the point where I'm gasping or things like that, but breathing is becoming a little bit harder," he said.

This smoke is really something else, Williams said.

"We can see all the way down the channel when it's nice," he said of the view from his home. "We can just barely make the Federal Building out and that's pretty close to us."

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or by e-mail at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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