NWT firefighters wary and watchful

NWT firefighters wary and watchful
Frank Lepine.Photo: Don Jaque.

The count is 126 fires and climbing fast, with the potential peak of the NWT fire season still weeks away.

“It has already been one of the busiest fire seasons for us in a long time,” says Frank Lepine, manager of Fire Operations at the NWT Fire Centre in Fort Smith.

He told The Journal Friday that the number of fires encountered across the territory so far is normal, but crews have already had to take action on six major fires because they were a potential threat to communities, which is not usual.

“Usually only one or two are close to communities by this juncture in the season. It has required a lot of resources,” he said.

Most NWT firefighting crews, air support and equipment have been moved to the far north, particularly Inuvik, where two lightning-caused fires burned within 10 km of the town, blanketing the community with smoke last weekend.

“One was close to town in an old burn and even that was burning well,” he said.

The Inuvik region has seen 26 fires so far, when the average by this time is typically only 10.

“We didn’t expect that,” Lepine said. “It was a cold, long winter there with lots of snow, but it went right from the heart of winter to a fire season.”

A fire also threatened Deline, but because it received lots of rain, it was easily controlled. Another fire was actioned outside of Behchoko, but two burns from the last two years were a buffer between it and the community, so it too was not problematic.

Fires also threatened Fort Simpson and Enterprise, and most recently a lightning-caused fire on Salt Mountain about 30 km from Fort Smith was contained and controlled. Crews have either finished their work or have nearly completed mopping-up operations on all those fires. At press time Monday, no NWT communities were threatened by fire.

Now, Lepine said, with record-breaking temperatures in the forecast, they are awaiting the pending heat wave and getting ready.

“It is time to regroup, clean gear and rest crews,” he said.

There have been virtually no fires in the South Slave region yet, which is highly unusual. The reason is there has been almost no lightning in that part of the NWT.

“Historically, the South Slave always has the most fires in the NWT,” Lepine observed.

He said the North Slave has had the highest drought levels and extensive lighting strikes but, luckily, it too has not had many fires yet.  He said the North Slave fire season peaks later in the summer, so action there may be yet to come.

Lepine is cautiously optimistic, but points to the fact that the fire season, which is usually from June 7 to August 15, is not even half over yet, and with extremely hot, dry conditions forecast throughout the NWT in coming weeks, things could get interesting.

“Our fire season usually peaks in mid-July and starts to run out in early August, but if we don’t get rain, this could carry on into fall,” he said.

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