Fire season relatively quiet

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

The Hay River area – from Fort Providence south to the NWT-Alberta border – has had a little bit below normal fire season, so far.

That’s according to Richard Olsen, the manager of fire operations with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Fort Smith.

Olsen nsaid there have been eight fires in the area since the official beginning of the fire season on May 1.

“It might be a little bit lower than normal,” he said, adding there have been no big fires in the area.

Olsen said the majority of the fires in the Hay River area started earlier in the season, pointing to four fires in the Cameron Hills.

There have also been other fires around Kakisa Lake and a person-caused fire on the Hay River Reserve.

“Hay River is one of the areas that actually has been experiencing more moisture than other places,” said Olsen in a telephone interview with The Hub. “There hasn’t been a lot of drying in those deeper layers where we get the problem fires that either hold over for a long time or grow to large sizes.”

The occasional rain in the Hay River area has helped keep the fire season in check.

“Every once in a while,” said Olsen of the rain this summer. “Just enough to sort of keep things where the chance of a start or the chance of a spread is really minimized.”

Plus, he said there is definitely more over-winter moisture and the water tables are a little bit higher.

“There’s more standing water visible in the forest than compared to other areas,” he said. “So all that contributes to lessening the chance of a fire starting in the first place.”

Throughout the NWT, there have been 180 fires up to Aug. 4, compared to 189 fires last year to the end of fire season on Sept. 30.

“So we’re actually going to end up with probably a little bit more fires than we did last year,” said Olsen.

There have been 66 fires in the South Slave, which includes Hay River, 15 in the Deh Cho, 22 in the Inuvik region, 43 in the North Slave and 34 in the Sahtu.

“We’re not actually too far off the number of fires that we expect to see this season,” said Olsen. “So in terms of number of fires we’re a little below, but close to the average.”

As of Aug. 4, there had been 3,063 square kilometres burned to date throughout the NWT, not including inside national parks.

Olsen said that would be probably 70 per cent of what would normally be expected in terms of area burned.

The ENR official noted the fire season usually begins to wind down in mid to late August before officially wrapping up at the end of September.

However, Olsen still urged people to remain vigilant and cautious, especially about campfires.

“As long as we’re in that summer season, there’s always the chance that a fire could start and spread,” he said.

On average, the NWT has from 240 to 250 fires a year and an area burned of about 5000 square kilometres.