Friday, 11 June 2010

NWT Fire season starts with a bang

  •  Fri, Jun 11, 2010

In the first month of fire season, the Northwest Territories has already experienced more fires than all of last season due to extremely dry conditions.
Since May 1, a total of 54 fires have burned over 6,000 hectares across the territory. Last year there were only 39 fires in the NWT.

"There are definitely more fires at this time than in a normal season," said Mike Gravel, territorial duty officer for the NWT. "The north is currently in high danger of fires, but in the south a number of fires died down because of the rain."

In Alberta, where fire season starts a month earlier than the NWT, 753 fires have burned over 1,800 hectares across the province. Most burned around Calgary and Lac La Biche.

Near Fort McMurray and Fort Chipewyan, 12 fires have burned only six hectares and the area currently faces no threat from fires. The danger rating for the Fort Chipewyan area has changed to moderate due to precipitation from the previous weekend.

In the NWT, lightning causes 90 per cent of all fires. The forest management office monitors all lightning strikes in the territory. Fire crews then survey the general area of the strike to see if a fire might or has started.

"Right now we're dealing with the aftermath of a lightning bust," Gravel said. "It's better to fight when the fire is small. The quicker we get there the more effective we can be."

Forest management also has satellite imaging that registers heat on the ground and shows where fires burn or have burned.

Thirty-one crews with 10 helicopters and four tankers work across the territory. Gravel said these are enough for the current situation.

Right now, 22 fires are being monitored, with 22 being fought, mostly around Yellowknife, Behchoko and Whati. Monitored fires burn in areas with no threat to valued properties, such as cabins or communities.

As for the 10 per cent of other fires not caused by lightning, Gravel asks that people take extra precautions when starting fires on the land.

"If people can keep their fires small and make sure it's out, then we don't have to concentrate on person-caused fires, then the rest of our job is simpler," Gravel said.