The NWT experienced 139 wildfires in 2021, with close to 52 per cent of them requiring a response from territorial resources.
Much of the season was spent at high alert as the greater part of the territory sustained record temperatures and heat domes that made for very dangerous fire conditions, according to a recent overview from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) forest management division.
The fires needing a response were about 10 per cent higher than normal due to dry weather conditions in the Dehcho, North Slave and Inuvik regions.
“The Beaufort Delta region actually had the most amount of fires in NWT, which is really, really unusual,” said Richard Olsen, manager of the forest management division. “Of those 36 fires, they had to action 27 over a period of up to two to three weeks.”
This extraordinary occurrence was “really indicative of the climatic conditions over the last couple of years within (the region),” he added.
The Beaufort Delta situation could improve due to the precipitation that is predicted to come up through B.C. and the Yukon, which should give the area a good amount snow and rain over the coming months.
Of the 139 fires in the NWT in 2021, 12.2 per cent — or 16 incidents — were human-caused.
Within that 12.2 per cent, there were three abandoned campfires and three escaped campfires that spread, two were a result of dump fires, and smoking (discarded cigarettes or tobacco), powerlines, lighters and a vehicle all caused at least one blaze.
Three fires were as a result of unknown circumstances and one was caused by an unknown incendiary device.
The NWT also dispatched staff and equipment to various provinces, including Manitoba, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec to provide assistance.
“It speaks to the professionalism of our staff and is crucial to our own wildfire management strategy – because when we need help some day, a whole community will be there to back us up,” stated Mike Westwick, ENR’s manager of communications.
The department took a revamped communications approach that highlighted information on basic prevention practices, the dangers of wildfire and staying safe while on the land. There was also an appeal to the “social and community values of residents across the NWT to make these actions really feel like the right thing to do.”
The campaigns spanned social, radio, and print media, reaching more than 78,000 unique users on Facebook and Instagram, and generated more than two million impressions throughout the wildfire season – nearly 500 per cent more than last year.
As well, the emergency firefighter training program in August geared towards 20 women and non-binary individuals will make a return when the summer months roll around again.
“We’re looking at whether we would deliver it within multiple regions, with the intent of delivering at least one of those training type opportunities, likely sometime next June,” said Olsen.
Westwick added, “We were really happy about the turnout and engagement (in August), and will be looking for more ways to help folks who may have felt intimidated in the past see themselves serving their communities in rewarding forest management careers,” said Westwick.
With regards to the upcoming winter season, Olsen said “there’s still work to be undertaken” surrounding long-term forecasting.
“The primary place that we look, Environment Canada, is indicating that the warmer temperatures that we’re enjoying this fall in large parts of the NWT is going to disappear as we get into late November, December, January with below normal temperatures for portions of the Western NWT, probably along the average for central NWT,” said Olsen. “And it’s looking like there might be elevated heat temperatures as you move towards Nunavut and Eastern Canada.”