A wetter-than-average 2020 across most of the NWT should mean a damp – and relatively quiet – start to next year’s fire season.
That’s the view of the territory’s wildfire operations manager, Richard Olsen, though he cautioned the situation may not be the same in the Beaufort Delta.
Inuvik experienced warmer and drier conditions this past summer. Olsen says his team will be watching that region closely when the next fire season approaches.
Moisture from snow and rain in 2020 has raised water tables “quite a bit,” said Olsen, as anyone near Great Slave Lake this summer can attest. In some instances, NWT lakes have sat six feet or more above their usual levels.
That wetness adds “a lot of moisture to the fuel,” Olsen continued, as opposed to recent years where drought conditions have prevailed across much of the North and South Slave, increasing the risk forest fires pose.
However, just because water levels are up, Olsen cautioned it doesn’t necessarily mean all of the moisture has reached the brush that serves as fuel for future fires.
“That’s an indication there are still dry conditions, even though it’s wetter overall,” he said.
The key to the start of next year’s wildfire season will be whether the wet summer is followed by significant dumps of snow and rain through the winter and spring.
If current conditions continue, Inuvik, the Beaufort Delta, and portions of the Sahtu would be left much drier than other parts of the NWT.
Typically, the severity of forest fire seasons operates in a cycle. From 2013 to 2015, for example, the territory experienced some of its most active fire seasons on record before things began to slow down.
The past three wildfire seasons have, by contrast, been “the slowest in the record for the last 30 years,” Olsen said.
“So if weather patterns continue in the next couple years, there’s a chance it will dry out again and you’ll start to see more activity.”