The 2018 wildfire season was one of the least damaging on record during a cool, damp summer.

There were 55 reported fires across the territory affecting 13,220 hectares of land, including eight fires and 1,133 hectares in the North Slave region.

By comparison, the 2017 wildfire season saw 860,000 hectares burn. The annual average over the past 20 years in the NWT is close to 500,000 hectares. In 2014, the worst year in recent history, close to three million hectares burned during the summer months.

The 55 fires reported this summer were the second-lowest since that data started to be tracked in the 1970’s, 2009 is the only year on record that saw less activity.

Of those blazes, 44 were “declared out” while 11 are still being monitored, but present little to no threat to property. With this year having such little activity, the GNWT sent fire crews to Ontario and British Columbia to assist in fighting wildfires after asking for help from provinces over the past few years.

A helicopter works on a forest fire near Gameti last year as part of a burnout operation that aimed to keep the fire from creeping closer to a lake near the community. NNSL file photo.

The tame fire season came after officials with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources predicted a high chance of a busy forest fire season.

“So what we ended up seeing is more of these wetter and cooler systems that floated up over top of these warm conditions that were affecting B.C. and Alberta and these systems,” said Richard Olsen, manager of fire operations for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

In other words, a record level of rain in June and continued wet weather throughout July coupled with cool temperatures meant that wildfires across the territory were kept at bay this year.

June brought close to three times the average annual rainfall and it was the third wettest July on record. In those two months, which are usually the busiest in terms of wildfires, the territory received two-thirds of its annual average precipitation.

“I think the key story for Yellowknife is the amount of precipitation in June and July and what you saw over those two months was over 200 millimetres of rain,” Brian Proctor, meteorologist with Environment Canada previously told Yellowknifer. “This represents about two-thirds of the amount of rainfall you would see in a normal calendar year.”

Olsen said that this year’s down season doesn’t mean next year will be fire friendly.

“I don’t think one year will make an overall difference in the type of risk. We are still being told we can expect extreme conditions. We can expect warmer weather in the future,” said Olsen.

While there are still 11 fires burning in the territory, Olsen expects they will burn themselves out by the time the department conducts its next inspections. He also noted that with colder weather coming, people still need to take caution when starting fires while on the land.

“It would be great to remind people if they need to light a fire that they choose a proper place to do it so it doesn’t spread and to make sure it’s out before they leave,” said Olsen. “And with people hunting and with cold weather coming we want to remind people to firesmart around their property to help us protect their assets.”

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