After two punishing wildfire seasons, the 2016 Northwest Territories fire season has started in unusually calm fashion.
Updating reporters on Monday, Richard Olsen — the territory’s fire operations manager — said 2016 had been “quite quiet” to date.
Two wildfires have been recorded so far this year in the territory. The most recent was a small fire reported Saturday near Kakisa — apparently caused by a roadside campfire that was abandoned. It has been extinguished.
A fire near Madeline Lake 25 kilometres north of Yellowknife earlier this month burned eight hectares before being declared out. That fire was believed to be a holdover from last year’s fire season that smouldered underground all winter.
“The 20-year average has us at six fires and a little over 2,000 hectares burned for this time of year,” said Olsen.
“[In 2014 and 2015] we were well over 40 fires and 6,000 hectares burned at this point in time.
“Unlike the previous couple of years, we’re not really dealing with problem fires, or potential problem fires, that are going to burn for the rest of the summer. It’s not to say that we won’t potentially get something like that, but the delay of even a week or two into June before those problem fires have a chance to start pushes everything back… into a shorter fire season.”
Rain and snow across many areas of the territory has helped, and the fire danger is low to moderate across the N.W.T. However, warmer and drier conditions are forecast for June and Olsen is cautioning residents to remain vigilant.
“Conditions have been dry in areas around Yellowknife and all the way down to some areas like Fort Liard,” he said.
“It’ll still take a substantial amount of rain to really put the ground and water tables back to what we would consider normal.”
The territory’s fire crews will reach full strength — around 150 personnel in total — next week when a final crew based in Tsiigehtchic becomes available. Meanwhile, several dozen firefighters from the Dehcho and South Slave are assisting efforts to control wildfires near Fort McMurray and Peace River, Alta.
“I feel really good about it,” said Olsen.
“It’s given us an opportunity to make sure the crews have gotten all their spring training done and are prepared. They’re not rushed into a fire season.
“It’s also given us an opportunity to help those folks down south, who have actually put a lot of effort into helping us over the last two years.”
The N.W.T. relied on outside assistance during both the 2014 and 2015 fire seasons, which together cost the territory just under $100 million to fight.