The 2019 fire season wrapped up at the end of September, with a grand total of 145 reported wildfires burning just over 105,000 hectares.
Richard Olsen, the NWT’s manager of fire operations, told Cabin Radio this was a quiet year: the 10-year average is 205 fires and 683,000 hectares burned.
While the 2019 season was more active than last year’s nearly non-existent fire season – when just 59 fires burned 16,000 hectares – it is the seventh-slowest season since 1975 in number of fires, and 10th-lowest season in area burned.
Despite this, the season started exceptionally early. The first few fires were reported in January. Olsen said those fires formed part of an increase in the number of human-caused fires this year.
“We would normally expect about eight percent of our fires being person-caused, but this year, with 19 [person-caused fires], it came out to 13 percent,” he said.
However, Olsen said there’s no indication of an overall upward trend in person-caused fires.
In May, Olsen suggested the season had “the potential for extreme conditions” due to low snowpack levels.
With dry soil around Great Slave Lake and Yellowknife at the time, Olsen said this week: “We were lucky in that we didn’t get the spring fires Alberta had to deal with throughout most of their season.”
The busiest time of the year for the NWT was from the middle of July to the beginning of August, when 30 fires were tackled around Yellowknife, as well as “a couple of major fire events near communities.”
There were no reported losses of values this year, Olsen said.
Thanks to the quiet spring season, NWT fire crews were sent to help in Alberta, Ontario, and Yukon. When the fires were active around Yellowknife, five crews from Ontario came up to lend a hand.
There are no active fires in the NWT right now and, thanks to snow and rain, the fire risk is low. However, Olsen cautioned that dry conditions and the presence of fuel will let wildfires burn at any time of year.
“With some of these thicker organic layers and some of the heavy forests, especially underneath a snow cover, some fires can actually burn like they would in the wood stove,” he explained, “where just a little bit of oxygen is getting in and it’s allowing the fires to burn through the ground vegetation.
“We’ll just have to continue to monitor the fire environment and, depending on what happens with snow over the winter, we may still have some concerns with areas around Great Slave Lake in terms of pockets that are dry,” said Olsen.
“There, if fires do start, they are more likely to spread – and spread aggressively – compared to what we would expect in some of the other areas, that have a little more moisture in the ground.”