NWT hits all-time drought code high

NWT hits all-time drought code high
The Birch Creek fire complex rages north of Fort Providence and has been closing Highway 3 intermittently throughout the last week, depending on wind direction. There are currently over 190 active fires burning in the NWT.Photo: Kelly Pennycook, ENR.

The “DC” or “drought code” used by firefighters has hit a new threshold in the NWT, an all time record high of 900 in several locations in the South and North Slave.

The DC is a sophisticated computer-generated formula composed of levels of precipitation, humidity, wind, temperature and the dryness of large fuels such as trees, as well as other factors. Generally, the bigger the number, the more wildfires that occur. Conditions throughout the southern NWT are forecasted to continue to be hot, dry and windy this week with lightning storms.

Firefighters are battling four major “fire complexes” in the North Slave made up of massive fires that are either burning close to one another or have actually joined up. Most of the fires are not considered under control and fire crews are doing their best to manage them and steer them away from people while they protect homes, cabins and communities, or “values at risk” (VARs), as best they can.

Operations Officer Jason Currie at the Territorial Fire Centre in Fort Smith told The Journal that the Reid Lake complex east of Yellowknife is being run by an Incident Management Team (IMT) from New Brunswick with a mixed bag of crews that are “making good progress,” though “challenged by very hot conditions and winds every day.”

The fire is fueled by old growth coniferous forest. There are multiple cabins and homes in the region – “by far the greatest concentration of VARs we have to deal with.”

Currie said the Whati fire complex is being managed by a mix of Ontario and NWT teams. Community protection is the primary goal there with several Tlicho towns potentially at risk. Cat guards are being created, connecting to natural barriers like lakes and rivers. Crews there are “challenged with very dry conditions, winds and poor visibility from smoke,” Currie said.

The Birch Creek fire complex between Fort Providence and Behchoko continues to burn actively along Highway 3, closing it intermittently and blocking road access to and from Yellowknife and the Tlicho region. Wide cat guards are being put in place to prepare for controlled burns that will offer protection to nearby Fort Providence should winds turn the fire in that direction. That fire complex is being actioned by NWT IMT crews.

The Kakisa fire complex is the only one that is close to being under control. Residents from Kakisa returned home over a week ago to find fire devastation all around the community, but everything there was saved. There is “no threat to the community at this time,” Currie said.

Five new fires continue to start each day in the southern NWT, all of them by lightning.

Two new ones are being monitored near Jean Marie River and are “no threat to the community at this time,” according to Currie.

Two more fires started up along Highway 3 over the weekend to the east of the Birch Lake complex closer to Behchoko. These are adding more smoke to already poor visibility for drivers but are not threatening the highway at this time.

Oddly, the smoke that is covering the southern NWT is actually helping the fire situation somewhat. The relative humidity is already very low and some areas have been receiving no rain. The smoke is blocking the sun somewhat, preventing things from drying out even more.

The temperature forecast for this week calls for rain for the Dehcho and Sahtu regions later in the week, while the northern half of the NWT will enjoy seasonal norms and little threat of fires.

The South and North Slave will continue to suffer severe conditions with little rain, hot days and dry lightning.

Late in the week the possibility of “howling easterly winds” are forecast and, if that materializes, could worsen the Whati and Reid Lake fire complexes east and north of Yellowknife.

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