Officials monitoring wildfire 20 kms outside Whatì

Fire ZF-034 is about 7000 football fields in size and is about 20 kilometres east of Whatì. (Photo courtesy of ENR)

Two wildfires in the Tłı̨chǫ region merged over the weekend, turning into one 3,800-hectare fire about 20 kilometres east of Whatì.

The fire is now so big that firefighters are no longer actively fighting the blaze.

“The fire will grow in size depending on the fuel, topography and weather conditions,” says Richard Olsen, the territorial government’s manager of forest operations.

He adds that crews will be putting plans in place depending on where the fire grows.

One example is if it gets near the Tłı̨chǫ Highway.

“We know there are people working along that highway, so the regions will be actively monitoring the fire growth and communicating with the contractors in terms of potential risk, and letting them know if they need to be worrying about smoke, or potential fire behaviour,” he says.

Fires likely to continue to grow

The fire is one of 66 active wildfires in the NWT, and 131 overall this season.

Amber Simpson, the GNWT’s wildfire information officer, told reporters during a briefing Monday the 10-year average number of wildfires at this point in the season is 175. The size of the fires have also been smaller than average this year.

But Olsen says the territory isn’t out of the woods yet.

“I don’t see anything in the forecast like a season-ending event where we’re going to get a bunch of rain and get in the fall conditions,” he said. “The fires that are still burning on the landscape are expected to have opportunities to continue growing over the next couple of weeks.”

Both 2020 and 2021 saw fewer wildfires than the average season.

“Historically, we’ve been getting these peaks around 15 to 20 years where we would get a large number of fires,” he said.

The last peak to fit that trend was in 2015.

Looking at future seasons, while hard to predict, Olsen said there are areas of the territory that could lead to large fires. He added that with climate change, officials are closely monitoring extreme conditions “and the consequences of what those extremes might be.”

About the Author

Francis Tessier-Burns
Francis has been a general news reporter with CKLB since January 2019. Originally from rural Ontario, he first came to the NWT in 2016 as an intern with Up Here magazine and fell in love with the North. In his time with CKLB, he's had the immense pleasure and honour of learning about northern Indigenous cultures. Otherwise, you can find him hanging around the Legislative Assembly. If you have a story or want to chat, reach out to francis@cklbradio.com