Like the past two years, 2020 turned out to be a below-average fire season – significantly so, with just 70 wildfires burning 21,139 hectares, the territory said as final figures for the season were published.
Over the past 10 years, the average number of fires in the territory has been 209 with 653,000 hectares burned. This year was much quieter even than 2019, itself a mild season.
“Wet weather limited the number of fires and the area burned, with most regions of the NWT experiencing more rain than forecast,” said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in a news release.
At the beginning of the season, the territorial government announced additional measures to be taken in fire operations to combat Covid-19, such as limiting interaction between crews.
The territory hired 41 extra firefighters, increased wildfire detection efforts, and brought in an additional air tanker group to ensure fires wouldn’t put communities at risk of evacuation during a time when travel was discouraged. The aim was also to reduce reliance on southern firefighters as backup.
“While fire is a natural and important part of the ecosystem, keeping fires small was a priority this year,” said the territory on Tuesday.
This season, firefighters actively fought two-thirds of all NWT fires – roughly twice the number they would normally be assigned to fight. (Often, fires that aren’t threatening any people or property can be left to burn.)
Of the 70 fires, 18 were human-caused. The GNWT had originally set a goal to have zero fires caused by people this year.
The 18 fires mean 26 percent of fires were human-caused, higher than the NWT’s average of 15 to 20 percent of fires caused by people each year – but still lower than in other jurisdictions, which can see 50 percent of fires or more started by people.
In Wood Buffalo National Park – an area larger than Switzerland – there were just three fires this year, burning 65.8 hectares. Parks Canada is responsible for managing fires in the national park, which are counted separately.