Hikers warned as Greenland wildfire burns out of control

Fire officials in the town of Sisimiut are considering how to deal with a fire that was set by the heat from a smoking oven

Smoke from the wildfires spreads over the Arctic Circle trail in this picture taken during a July 12 overflight. (Arctic Circle Trail)

By Kevin McGwin
Arctic Today

Hikers on Greenland’s popular Arctic Circle Trail are being advised to avoid a portion of the 100-mile (165-kilometre) route linking Sisimiut and Kangerlussuaq after two Americans had to be evacuated when they become disoriented in smoke caused by a wildfire.

The fire was reportedly started on July 10 when heat from an outdoor smoke oven ignited dry ground nearby and quickly began burning out of control.

Smoke from the fire, as well as its remote location, have prevented firefighters from reaching the blaze and as of Monday, the fire had spread out over 93,000 acres (375 square kilometres).

Though not deemed a danger to either the town of Sisimiut (pop. 5,500) or any cabins or huts in the outlying area, fire officials are considering having helicopters drop water on the flames to prevent their spread.

“Right now, the fire isn’t any threat to cabins in the area, but when the wind changes direction there is a risk that the smoke will blow towards Sisimiut, and that would be a problem for people with asthma and other breathing problems,” Ole Kreutzmann, Sisimiut’s fire chief, told KNR, a broadcaster.

The latest fire is the largest of six reported wildfires in Greenland this month. The previous fires were easily put out, according to fire officials, who called the situation “predictable” given abnormally dry conditions that have arisen as the result of an early spring melt.

Smoke is currently blowing away from Sisimiut, but a change in the wind direction could push it over the town (Arctic Circle Trail)

Although no causes of the previous fires, which fire officials described as “minor,” have been identified, hikers and campers are being warned only to light fires near sources of water, to avoid leaving glass in the sunlight and not to discard of cigarette butts on the ground.

“If we get a fire at the foot of one of the fjords it takes some time for help to get there,” Knud Petersen, of the Sermersooq fire department, told KNR.

This article originally appeared at Arctic Today and is reproduced with permission.

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(4) Comments:

  1. Posted by Clarification Question on

    Thank you for the article. I just wanted clarification of what’s caught on fire? Is it grass or trees or bush? I see a reference to dry ground, but not certain what substance it refers to.

    I hope everyone will be okay. I hope any animals that may have been affected will be okay.

    • Posted by Petta on

      The tundra….? The satellite images show green tundra, blanketed by fire, and smoke.

    • Posted by Alexander Buchan on

      This would be a tundra fire. Tundra vegetation including grassy tussocks and low shrubs. Tundra fires are normal. On average, over 500,000 hectares of tundra burns every year in the NWT, and just under 500,000 hectares in Alaska, mostly due to lightning strikes. There are more tundra fires now due to climate change. In 2015 almost 3.5 million hectares burned in the NWT, which may be a significant overlooked factor in caribou abundance. Nunavut does not track or report on tundra fires.

    • Posted by H Thomas on

      It’ll be dry grasses, dwarf birch and vaccinium largely. There isn’t much dwarf Salix up there on the higher ground. If the soil is also very dry, it’s black and organically rich.

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