GNWT warns of extreme fire risk for upcoming week

An aerial photo of an active wildfire near Wekweètì. (Image retrieved from Fire NWT's Facebook page)

The NWT will be a giant tinderbox for the next seven to 10 days.

“We had an incredibly warm June, which meant that we were facing pretty dry landscapes across a lot of the territory already,” says Mike Westwick, wildfire information officer. Add that to no expected rain for the next week or so and it creates a “pretty challenging” and “severe” situation.

While lightning causes the majority of fires, the government is urging residents to be vigilant if having fires on the land. Generally Westwick says human-caused fires have the potential to be more destructive because people will have them closer to parks or cabins.

“When we undertake risky behavior on the land,” he says, “it’s not just forest or animals that are put at risk. It’s fire teams across our communities, real people who have to step into harm’s way to protect the things folks value.”

Westwick said there are two “high-profile” fires: one about 40 kilometres outside of Wrigley and one 17 kilometres northwest of Wekweètì.

For the fire near Wrigley, crews are working to protect cabins near Willowlake River. There will also be controlled burning in the area in the coming days to try and stop the growth of the fire.

Controlled burning has already happened for the fire near Wekweètì, which Westwick says helped limit its size.

While there are no communities currently at risk, Westwick said “that can change really, really fast.”

According to the GNWT’s wildfire webpage, there have been 83 fires this season with 56 of those currently active.

Westwick says in any given season, the government will monitor all fires but crews need to respond to about half of the fires. So far, 39 fires of the 83 have had at least one crew respond.

NWT fire crews are already getting help from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Wood Buffalo National Park.

“It’s next to impossible to staff an emergency response service that’s going to be ready for any size of wildfire season,” says Westwick. “That’s why that collaboration is really important.”

About the Author

Francis Tessier-Burns
Francis was a reporter with CKLB from January 2019 to March 2023. In his time with CKLB, he had the immense pleasure and honour of learning about northern Indigenous cultures.