The NWT can expect an average wildfire season in 2022, the territory’s wildfire operations manager said in a later-than-usual season-opening briefing.
Comparing this year’s forecast with the past three or four years, Richard Olsen said: “We’re getting into what I would call an average fire season, with the potential for some significant drying and potential extreme fires around Great Slave Lake.”
Wildfire season has been under way in the territory for about a month. The GNWT’s first wildfire update went out on June 2, at which point there were three active fires. As of Monday, there had been 36 fires so far this year.
There are currently 19 active fires. Most fire activity in the NWT to date has been around Great Slave Lake.
Olsen said several fires are being monitored, including one approximately 50 km southeast of Fort Resolution and another around 10 km from Fort Liard.
Olsen said neither fire poses a risk to nearby communities at this point and crews are working to put them out.
The past winter brought high snowfall to many regions of the territory, saturating much of the ground in the Beaufort Delta and Sahtu. The South Slave and Dehcho also saw heavy precipitation over the winter but are drying out faster than areas farther north.
“A couple areas in the Dehcho, extending into areas around Great Slave Lake, are looking like things are starting to dry out a lot more than they’ve seen in the last year,” Olsen said.
This year, Yellowknife recorded its second-warmest start to the month of June on record. Olsen said according to forecasts he’s seen, this “strong warming” might run into July, especially in the south-western corner of the territory.
Monday’s update came two months after a national wildfire outlook predicted heavier rainfall for northern Saskatchewan and much of the NWT for the first half of the summer, with no firm suggestion of above-normal wildfire activity in April, May or June.
This year’s opening NWT update came a month later than the first wildfire briefing of the season last year. Olsen attributed the delay to “some commitments for training and travel and some downtime related to Covid-19.”
2021 another below-average season
While last year’s wildfire season saw much more fire activity in the northern part of the territory, its 139 fires still equated to a below-average fire season.
Regardless, Olsen said, resources to fight fires have not been downsized. There are still 33 four-person fire crews spread throughout the territory.
“We pretty-much are sitting at a relatively good spot in terms of the numbers of resources that we have in the locations that we are,” he said, “and the ability, if things get really busy, to go and ask for additional resources and help.”