The Northwest regions have seen more wildfires so far this year than the 10-year average, but the weather is likely to be average, says Richard Olson, manager of fire operations with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
“Overall, it seems that compared to the last three or four years, we are getting into an average fire season,” he said, “with the potential for some significant drying, with potential extreme fires again around the Great Slave Lake.”
But the total area burned so far is “far below” the average area burned for this time of year.
So far, 36 fires have occurred in an area affecting 6,119 hectares of land, with 17 declared wildfires. That compares to a 10-year average of about 35 wildfires, affecting about 23,000 hectares, Olsen said.
As of Monday, there were nineteen wildfires burning in the NWT, Olsen said. The latest fire has occurred in the last 24 hours.
According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR), all active forest fires are caused by lightning.
This year due to some people there was also a fire in the forest which has been extinguished. The investigation into those fires is still ongoing, Olsen said.
“We always like to remind people that in the summer, don’t let your campfire become a wildfire and make sure your fire is completely extinguished before you leave,” he said.
The largest fire currently burning is about 55 km southeast of Fort Resolution and is about 250 hectares in size. The ENR website says that the wildfires are “receiving limited action to protect values in the region.”
Olsen said the area’s fire resources are in a “relatively good place” with 33 fire crews (each made up of four members) deployed throughout the NWT, there are four air tanker groups – soon to be five by the end of next week – and Five helicopters are available.
He added that if the season remains very busy, the department has the capacity to seek more resources if needed.
Dryer area near Great Slave Lake, eastern border
Across the region, the risk of a fire hazard is rated between “moderate” and “extreme”.
The summer weather has been drier so far at Yellowknife. On 9 June, the city issued a mandatory open-air burning ban. This includes the use of approved fire pits within the city due to “very dry conditions” and less rain in the forecast. The ban remains in effect.
“Most of the fire activity has been around the Great Slave Lake area,” Olsen said.
“What we’re starting to see is that something really cool is drying up. [on] around Yellowknife and the portion between Great Slave Lake and Great Bear Lake and east to the Nunavut border.”
Right now, he said there’s no indication that there will be any extreme drought or an area of major concern “where we’re seeing really deep burning fires for extended periods of time.”
“But if we continue to have some nice drying over several weeks with very little precipitation,” he warned, “any kind of fire that starts at least on the surface is likely to spread.”
Olsen said last year’s fire season, like the one before it, was a bit slow in the NWT.
As of August 3, 2021, the total number of wildfires in that year—131 wildfires affecting 114,174 hectares of land—was thought to be slightly less than the area’s 10-year average of 175 wildfires each year. Last year there were a total of 139 forest fires.