South Slave
Wildfires

Cold and snow help Wood Buffalo’s 2020 wildfire outlook


Wood Buffalo National Park’s fire program manager says snow pack and a cold winter have helped to “reset” drought conditions in the park, to an extent.

Jean Morin said: “We’re not getting into a major drought in the spring, although that can change rapidly with long days of sun – and if it doesn’t rain in the next month and in the month of June.”

Morin said Environment Canada projects above-normal fire danger in southern parts of the country, with its outlook for northern Canada expected next week.

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Wood Buffalo National Park’s northern tip sits nearly 80 km north of the NWT-Alberta border, while its southern border dips more than 220 km south of the border.

In total, the park covers more than 44,000 square kilometres – an area larger than Switzerland.

Wood Buffalo will have four fire crews this summer, each with four members managing wildfires in the park. They will be helped by fire management staff based in Fort Smith.

Morin said crews will be practising physical distancing and are equipped with personal protective equipment.

“We’ve taken all the precautionary measures we can take,” he noted. “We’re going to have everything in place to respond, despite all the limitations.”

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Similar to the Northwest Territories’ fire season plan, the park intends to take early action on fires that crews might have left in previous years.

That strategy aims to minimize exposure to smoke, which increases complications for people with Covid-19. It is also intended to lower the risk of a fire becoming so large that it strains resources and puts communities at risk of evacuation.

The Fort Smith-based crews will provide support to the NWT’s other national parks if facilities in those parks need to be protected. Those other national parks, like the Nahanni National Park Reserve, have a larger number of natural fire breaks, which means the threat of a major forest fire is consider lower than in Wood Buffalo.

Morin said Wood Buffalo’s fire season usually begins in late May, when lightning starts.

As of Friday morning, there were no fires in the park. No holdover fires from last year have been noticed during smoke patrols.

The park is not currently under a fire ban.

“If we get into a situation where resources are starting to be stressed … the superintendent will decide to put a fire ban in place,” Morin noted.

Across Canada, national park visitor services are closed due to the pandemic. This means no camping, no day use areas, and no events.

People will not be able to make campground reservations until at least June 1, while all reservations made prior to that have been cancelled and refunded.

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