Early August is usually the end of the wildfire season in the NWT when fire crews are laid off and helicopter and aircraft contracts terminate; but not this summer, where there have been 364 fires to date, only 63 of those declared out and weather forecasts indicating “more of the same.”
Rick Olsen, manager of fire operations with Environment and Natural Resources (ENR), told The Journal that an estimated 2.856 million hectares have burned to date and a number of active fires are burning close to NWT communities.
The massive fire just west of Yellowknife is being actioned on the south side, located only 22 km from the capital. Another huge complex further north of it is also being actioned and is 22 km east of Behchoko, burning hot.
Other communities with wildfires too close for comfort include Whati, where strategic burnouts that should protect the community are being mopped up. There are several fires 30 km to the south of Fort Resolution that have fire crews busy, and a big fire that emerged out of the north side of Wood Buffalo National Park is being worked on so that it does not become a threat to Hay River.
Work is still being done on the west side of the massive Birch Creek fire complex along Hwy 3 so that it does not threaten Fort Providence. All five communities have the vulnerability of old growth forest between them and the fires.
There are still hot spots in the fires along Hwy 3, which will probably mean poor visibility for traffic and the sporadic closing of road access to and from Yellowknife and Behchoko. An inversion that is keeping smoke from those fires low to the ground is also hampering visibility for firefighting aircraft there.
‘Ferocious fire weather’
There was bad news in the forecast at the NWT Fire Centre weather briefing Monday morning, where predictor Bev Archibald from True North weather consulting said that “ferocious fire weather” is likely on Tuesday and Wednesday. She said “things will be heating up and drying out” and a “low level jet” is possible where high winds drop down from the upper atmosphere.
She is predicting sustained winds of at least 20 km per hour gusting to 35 km in the North Slave, storms with dry lightning and very little moisture, strong southerly winds around Yellowknife and weather patterns that could converge in the South Slave to produce the “best scenario for tornadoes.”
Dehcho fires ‘close to out’
One bit of good news is that the fires in the Dehcho region have slowed, and Olsen says “no more action is required on them.” That includes the three fires that were near the community of Jean Marie River, which are all deemed “close to out” as well as the massive Kakisa fire that is now finally “under control.”