Relief from raging forest fires in the Northwest Territories is unlikely for another month or two as its southern region deals with the driest season it’s seen in decades, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources warned.
“Right now given the extreme conditions and the drought … it would take several days of sustained rain for us to be out of this situation,” said spokeswoman Judy McLinton. “It’s drier and hotter than it has been in the past 20 to 30 years.”
As of Friday afternoon, 137 forest fires had broken out in the NWT this year, and 110 still weren’t out. By this time of year, Ms. McLinton said the NWT typically sees between 90 and 100.
While a few fires earlier in the season were due to human error, Ms. McLinton said all the recent fires were caused by lightning and dry weather conditions.
Kakisa, a small First Nation community, was evacuated entirely as flames approached, though Ms. McLinton said the threat to the community is subsiding. All 34 residents were moved to temporary shelters in Fort Providence and a community centre in Hay River, according to the NWT’s emergency management department.
Meanwhile, the Taltson hydroelectric plant was back up and running after temporarily shutting down power as the fires threatened hydro lines.
Other than a few cabins, no structures have been damaged so far, though about 270,000 hectares of land have burned, Ms. McLinton said. “These fires are burning very, very extremely. Mineral soil is burning, the tops of trees are burning,” she said.
Alberta and Saskatchewan sent fire crews and extra hoses and sprinklers to help control the fires, and British Columbia sent the NWT a fleet of five firefighting aircraft. Firefighters sent from Alaska were expected to arrive Friday. “What we’re doing right now is protecting communities,” Ms. McLinton said.
Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips said a cold winter with little snowfall left the ground in the NWT drier and more susceptible to forest fires than usual.
“It is a bit shocking in some ways that here we’re seeing most of Canada under water, with heavy rains coming, and yet there is a part of the country where we’re seeing some very dry conditions and clearly forest fire issues,” he said. “If some area is getting too much weather, another area is not getting enough.”
Since April, Mr. Phillips said Yellowknife has had about 28 millimetres of precipitation, less than half the normal of 58 millimetres. Forecasts for the rest of the summer show higher than normal temperatures, which could result in more lightning setting off fires, he said.
Although there’s a 60-per-cent chance of showers in the area for Friday and Saturday, Mr. Phillips said.