The manager of the Northwest Territories’ forest management services says things are ‘looking pretty good’ for the community of Gameti and ‘fairly secure’ for Wekweeti, even though forest fires near both of the communities have been growing each day.

So far this summer, fires in the N.W.T. have consumed nearly 5,000 square kilometers of forest — an area roughly the size of Trinidad — and sent plumes of smoke as far away as South Dakota.

Mike Gravel is the manager of Forest Management Services with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.  

He says they’ve already done a controlled burnout operation near Gameti that will reduce the risk to the community of about 250 people.

“They will be affected by smoke if they get some southeast winds, but otherwise Gameti is looking pretty good,” he says.

Gravel says crews are now in Wekweeti, pop. 137, reviewing plans in case more work is needed to protect that community.

“Wekweeti is on the opposite side of a lake and our reports are that it’s fairly secure there, but we want to just keep our eye on the fire site and make sure we have things in place in case we need to do something there.”

Gravel says that with a south wind, people in Wekweeti will be affected by smoke, but the forecast is calling for a northerly wind.

Across the territory, the weather is adding to the threat.

"Coming this weekend it's supposed to be hot and dry, upwards of 30 degrees, so there's really little relief in site."

On top of that, the territory is experiencing unusually high winds.

“Forecasted winds are to increase overnight so some of these fires that are out in the countryside will get bigger,” Gravel says. “Any of those fires near high value areas, we've been planning for that wind event and have our resources in place to deal with that.”

Resources stretched

The department is now monitoring over 130 active fires, but admits the number may be skewed as fires become larger and join together.

“We have the resources in place to deal with the current load,” Gravel says, but he admits that “we've been stretched to as far as we could probably go.”

About 75 firefighters from outside of the N.W.T. have joined the territory’s 29 five-person fire crews. A further 100 emergency fire fighters have also been hired. Those are people called in on an as-needed basis to help protect communities and put out fires.

Gravel says the department will continue to put the priority on protecting communities.

He says that means it’s up to cabin owners to make sure their properties are secure.

“In these extreme conditions, ENR may not be able to get there. It’s up to the property owner to look after their area and facilities.”

Corrections

  • The original version of this story cited 500,000 hectares of burnt forest and compared this to the size of Newfoundland and Labrador. In fact, 5,000 square kilometres of forest have burned, an area roughly the size of Trinidad.
    Jul 10, 2014 8:43 AM CT