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Wildfires

National wildfire outlook suggests June could be tough in Canada


A 2022 wildfire outlook issued by US, Canadian and Mexican agencies suggests the Northwest Territories can expect a regular start to the season ahead.

The picture to the south, however, implies June could be difficult. “Above normal” wildfire activity is forecast across vast regions of Canada for that month, particularly southwestern British Columbia and central Manitoba.

“Several climate models suggest June will be dry in western Canada and along the Great Lakes area into the east,” the outlook states. Natural Resources Canada contributes Canadian analysis to the document.

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The outlook says most models suggest above-normal temperatures across much of Canada in June and, even though “patchy heavy rainfall” is expected, that “may not be enough to prevent above-normal fire activity.”

However, the outlook states that models forecast “heavier rainfall in northern Saskatchewan into the Territories,” and there is consequently no explicit forecast of above-normal wildfire activity for the Northwest Territories in April, May or June.

If anything, the outlook states, the Beaufort Delta and Sahtu could get away with a slightly quieter-than-usual start to the summer. The neighbouring Yukon is expected to have below-normal activity in June.

The Northwest Territories government has yet to issue its own annual wildfire season forecast. So far, the territory has not reported any wildfires this year.

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The past four wildfire seasons in the NWT have all been quieter than average.

In 2021, fires burned 144,680 hectares in the NWT. The 20-year average is 191,000 hectares.

Despite that, NWT fire operations manager Richard Olsen said more fires in 2021 needed action than would ordinarily be the case.

“Even though the fire numbers and area burned are relatively low, we do have some areas of the NWT that – because of the dry conditions and the type of weather that we experienced – required us to really put a lot of significant effort in,” Olsen told reporters in October last year.

“So while there were fewer fires, there was still a significant amount of work undertaken.”

Wildfire seasons tend to follow a broad cycle: bad years burn a lot of ground and deplete the amount of fuel available, while quieter summers can allow enough fuel to build up for conditions to favour another bad year.

In 2017, wildfires burned 860,000 hectares in the NWT. The following summer, the territory had seen only 11,591 hectares burn by the end of August.

The seasons from 2010 to 2017 represented a historically severe stretch. Since 2018, seasons have been noticeably calmer.

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