The number of wildfires in the 2022 season is on track to more than double the five-year average, and is on the cusp of surpassing the ten-year average, according to forecasting by NWT Fire.
As of the afternoon of Monday, Aug. 15, there had been 199 fires in the territory since the beginning of the fire season on May 1. This works out to an average of about two new fires every day.
“We’re having a busy fire season overall, the busiest we’ve had in several years,” says fire information officer Jessica Davey-Quantick.
She says this year’s fire season is forecasted to have about 320 fires in total, which is more than double the five-year average of 136. It’s also significantly higher than the ten-year average of 203.
Davey-Quantick acknowledges these numbers were a couple of weeks old as of the week of Aug. 15, and the final number could vary significantly in either direction. However, as of the afternoon of Monday, Aug. 15, the territory was just four fires away from surpassing the ten-year average.
The 72 fires that started between July 5 and 12 were more than the total number of fires seen in both the 2018 and 2020 seasons
This already-busy fire season was aggravated by this past weekend’s hot, dry weather.
This large number of fires compels fire crews to make difficult decisions about which fires to address, “because our territory is very large and our resources aren’t,” says Davey-Quantick.
The end of August is expected to be dangerous for wildfires as well, with hot, dry weather in the forecast. “We do have high-to-extreme fire danger currently in the North Slave and the South Slave, and that’s going to keep going,” says Davey-Quantick. “We’re having a nice long fire season.”
Given the high risk of fire, Davey-Quantick says residents should be especially careful while enjoying the outdoors.
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The Government of the Northwest Territories says fire crews are monitoring, but not fighting, a naturally-caused wildfire near Whatì that caused visible smoke as far away as Yellowknife.
On Monday, a towering plume of smoke could be seen on the horizon near Behchokǫ̀. The smoke came from a holdover fire, labeled ZF060-22, which was believed to have been extenguished before re-emerging from underground. The fire is located immediately west of Marian Lake, about 38 kilometres southeast of Whatì. That latter community is expected to bear the brunt of the smoke and ash, according to NWT Fire.
Despite the alarming visual, NWT Fire says crews are monitoring but not actively fighting the fire, since no cabins or other infrastructure are believed to be at risk. “Fire’s a natural part of our ecosystem; It is important for it to happen,” says Davey-Quantick. “So a lot of times, what happens is, as long as there are no values at risk, no communities at risk, crews will let fires burn out: They’ll control them, they’ll monitor them, they’ll make sure they stay within fire lines, so everyone’s safe.”