Still too early to predict severity of fire season

NNSL file photo
Richard Olsen is the manager of fire operations with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

It appears to be a bit too early to make any solid prediction about this year’s fire season in the NWT.

That was the essence of the first forecast for this fire season offered by the GNWT on May 26.

“There is some indication here overall that June will really be the month to watch,” said Richard Olsen, the manager of fire operations with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Fort Smith. “Conditions are dry – from normal to above normal type conditions within the Deh Cho, within portions of the North Slave and within portions of the South Slave around Fort Smith and extending up into the Fort Resolution area.”

Whether there’s a lot of rain this month and how it falls will help determine the fire season.

“The amount of precipitation and the way that it’s presented will be the most important thing,” said Olsen. “So if we get about three inches of rain in 24 hours and that’s all we get in June, it will still leave enough time for things to dry out. It may wet down certain areas. But if we get a little bit of rain spread out every day or two, it will change things, as well.”

The fire operations manager explained that precipitation and the amount of lightning are probably the two big indicators of whether there’s going to be a significant fire season.

“Quick rain tends to run off quickly into the rivers and streams, whereas a slow, steady drizzly type of rain tends to sink into the fuel a lot better and has more of an impact,” he said.

When asked specifically about the Hay River area, Olsen said there is nothing in the data indicating it will have an abnormal fire season either way.

However, he noted there are indications that northern Alberta is abnormally dry along its border with the NWT.

“So as a result, that may influence some potential fire behaviour in the South Slave region, specifically south of Hay River and Fort Smith,” he said.

The data considered by the department includes such things as precipitation over the winter, the dryness of the forest floors, long-range weather forecasts, and even the lack of any indication whether an El Nino or La Nina – regions of warm or cool water, respectively – will develop this year in the Pacific Ocean.

On average, the NWT has from 240 to 250 fires a year and an area burned of about 5,000 square kilometres annually.