North

N.W.T. forest firefighters get weekend off to battle fatigue

The expectation of a long forest fire fighting season led the N.W.T. government to give most of its fire crews the weekend off, according to the territory's fire services manager. 51 fires have been reported so far this season.

Government says decision was pre-emptive to prepare for expected long season

Smoke from a forest fire is visible Monday May 25 from N.W.T. Highway 3 outside Behchoko. Fire crews were given the weekend off to battle fatigue, in preparation for a long fire season. (submitted by Elora Braden)

Most Northwest Territories fire fighters were given last weekend off, with the territorial government suggesting that it wants to address the issue of fatigue early in what has already become an above-average fire season.

Richard Olsen, the territory's manager of fire services, says the decision was made in "recognition of last year," when 385 fires burned in the Northwest Territories at a cost of over $56 million. This season, there are already 51 fires reported across the N.W.T.

"Individuals, just like with any exercise or exertion over time, become less and less effective," says Olsen.

"So the more you give a person the chance to rest their mind and their body, allow them to recover and relieve the stress that comes with the position, the better able they're going to be able to come in as best they can without risking themselves or others."

Crews were trained and put in place by the territorial government earlier than usual this season in preparation for a hot, dry May and June. On Monday, the Northwest Territories saw three to 15 millimetres of rain across most of the territory, an amount Olsen says was welcome but not enough to make a long-term impact.

"Anything from a millimetre of rain is going to dampen the fine fuels, the grasses, enough so that the fires will slow down quite a bit," says Olsen. "Anything from three to five millimetres, you're starting to get into the heavy type fuels.

"In the long term, though, things will dry off... pretty much within three or four days we expect to see some more fire activity from fires on the landscape. 

"And to get really into the deep, deep, deep layers we'd probably have to see 25 — an inch or two of rain for it to really make a difference — so 25 milimetres or more."

Olsen says the government is considering bringing in additional aircraft and personnel for new fires that weather could cause.

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