Land affected by wildfires in N.W.T. has almost doubled since last week

There were 23 active wildfires in the territory Monday evening, and three of those fires had started within the previous 24 hours. The largest fire, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources was about 96 kilometres southeast of Gameti, N.W.T.

Cabins on Little Doctor Lake monitored as wildfire burned 500 metres away Monday evening

A lightning-caused fire pictured in June 2021 in the Dehcho region of the Northwest Territories. (N.W.T. Department of Environment and Natural Resources)

The amount of land affected by wildfires in the Northwest Territories has almost doubled since last week and now stands at more than 14,615 hectares.

As of Monday evening, there were 23 active wildfires in the territory, and three of those fires had started within the previous 24 hours, according to information published by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

In the Dehcho region there were eight active fires, meanwhile in the North Slave region there were 12 active fires.

No properties were identified as at risk, although fire crews were monitoring cabins on Little Doctor Lake where a fire burned half a kilometre away. That lightning-caused fire was classified Monday evening as being out of control. Three fire crews were said to be suppressing the fire with the assistance of air tankers. 

The largest fire, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources was about 96 kilometres southeast of Gameti. It had grown to 2,500 hectares and was being monitored.

The second largest fire was near Gameti as well and was about 2,000 hectares and around 75 kilometres northwest of the community.

A wildfire burns near Behchoko, N.W.T., on June 30, 2020, in this file photo. (NWT Fire/Facebook)

Warmer temperatures a factor

Mike Flannigan, a professor with the department of renewable resources at the University of Alberta and the director of the Canadian Partnership for Wildland Fire Science, says that so far the wildfire season in the territory is near normal, or just slightly below normal.

However, he says the warmer temperatures get over time, the more wildfires we'll generally see.

"The reasons are," he explained, is that "the warmer it gets, the longer the fire seasons are."

Flannigan says another reason why warmer temperatures could mean more wildfires is increased lightning activity.

"Studies suggest that lightning for latitudes north of 60 may see twice as much lightning [activity] by the end of the century. And all things being equal, more lightning means more fire," he said.

"Area burned in Canada doubled and this is due to lightning-caused fires in Western and Northern Canada. So that's an important aspect of a fire."

'Our new reality'

Flannigan also says that as temperatures gets warmer, the better the atmosphere it creates to suck moisture out of wildfire fuel — like dry leaves or fallen old trees.

"Drier fuels means it's easier for fire to start, easier for fire to spread, and means more fuels available to burn, which means more energy release, which means higher intensity fire, which can be difficult to impossible to put out," he said.

Flannigan added if there was enough rain to compensate for this drying effect from warmer temperatures, then things could "be OK."

"But our models of the future suggests that we're not going to see enough precipitation in the summer, or the fire season, to compensate for this drying effect," he said.

That said, not every year will be a "bad" fire year. Like last year for example, which Flannigan said was more of a quiet season for wildfires across Canada.

He says climate change does play a role in wildfires with regard to increased intensity, which makes them harder to extinguish.

"This is our new reality with longer fire seasons, more lightning-caused fires, more smoke," Flannigan said. 

With files from Walter Strong and Jared Monkman


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