NWT 2021 fire season passes 2020, still below average so far

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources' FireBoss aircraft sits at the Norman Wells airport in June 2020. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

The NWT’s 2021 wildfire season has now surpassed the entirety of 2020 for number of fires and area burned, but historical averages still suggest this summer is quiet.

Last year, a total of 70 wildfires burned more than 21,000 hectares across the NWT, while this year has already seen 71 fires affect more than 30,700 hectares by the season’s halfway mark.

Despite surpassing last year’s numbers, the 2021 wildfire season is still some distance from the territory’s 20-year average of 186 fires by August 10.

The largest wildfire currently burning in the NWT, FS-019, is more than 7,000 hectares bigger than any other wildfire in the territory according to the latest update from the NWT’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources. 



FS-019, which destroyed two cabins on Little Doctor Lake last weekend, has grown to 8,400 hectares in size.

Frank McKay, an information and liaison officer for the department, said an assessment of that fire would be completed.

There are currently 13 wildfires burning in the Dehcho. Wildfire FS-015, which closed Highway 1 for a time last weekend, has grown to 573 hectares in size. The department said the fire isn’t impacting the highway or communities for the time being. 

Wildfire FS-016, around 23 kilometres southeast of Fort Simpson, is designated as out-of-control and remains just under 1,000 hectares in size. 



Elsewhere in the Dehcho, wildfire FS-017 – on the north bank of the Mackenzie River, west of the Ndulee crossing – is currently the second-largest fire burning in the NWT at over 1,400 hectares. Environment and Natural Resources said cabins located eight kilometres from that fire were being closely monitored. 

Of the 42 active wildfires across the territory, three are burning in the South Slave, 20 in the North Slave, four in the Sahtu, and two in the Beaufort Delta.

Nationwide, the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre now rates the national preparedness level at five, the highest designation possible.

As of Wednesday, there had been just over 4,000 wildfires across Canada so far this year. 

“That means within Canada, there’s a full commitment of resources and demand for interagency resources. It’s extreme,” McKay explained.

In the past, the NWT has exported some of its firefighters to provide support in other jurisdictions. However, the territory’s own situation is sufficiently severe that McKay said fire crews are staying put for now.

“We don’t want to stretch our resources too thin,” he said. “Other fires will occur.”