Fire season officially opened May 1 in the Northwest Territories with warnings to anyone lighting fires that conditions are dry and extra care is needed.
“We’re into fire season. People have to be aware in the event that they light a fire that they’re responsible for that fire and they should make every effort to control it and put it out after they’re done with it,” said Richard Olsen, forest manager for the South Slave region.
Olsen said that as summer approaches and the snow disappears, fine fuels such as dead grass and leaves become exposed. In the lull period before vegetation begins to green up again, those brown areas make excellent fuel for fire, especially in dry conditions.
“Over the short term, the next week or two, we aren’t expecting too much rain, which is what will sort of kick-start some of the greening up, so conditions are going to be fairly dry,” Olsen said.
Fire crews across the territory are currently doing refresher training and cross-training with local fire departments on using equipment and preparing emergency response plans ahead of time.
Though the risk is fairly low for fires right now, Olsen said the main threat lies with people out in the bush using fires for cooking or heating.
“Probably the biggest risk for ignition now is going to be human caused,” he said. “Because we don’t have as many people as they do in Alberta travelling in the backcountry, the overall risk is fairly low still. But if something does happen, because the grass is so dry and hasn’t greened up yet, wherever the grass is, there’s a pretty good chance that it’ll burn out areas of those fine fuels. When things green up, then that’ll change a lot.”
Olsen advised that people should make sure they have the ability to control the size of their fires.
With fire season officially underway, residents in the NWT must get a permit to burn from their local Environment and Natural Resources office when outside of community limits. If burning inside a community, individuals should go to their local town hall.