Even in winter, campfires spark wildfires in northern Canada

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A spokesperson for the environment department said the largest fire is about the size of a living room. The other two are much smaller. (NWT Fire/Facebook)
Just because it’s –30 C doesn’t mean the N.W.T. is safe from wildfires.

Three person-caused wildfires were spotted near Fort Liard in the last week, according to Richard Olsen, a fire operations manager with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR).

He said the largest one is about the size of a living room, while the other two are much smaller.

A Facebook post on the NWT Fire page said the fires were all caused by abandoned campfires.

“January may not seem like the time to worry about fires, but the Fort Liard area is still extremely dry from a lack of fall precipitation,” the post said.

“These fires can then pop back up in the spring when conditions warm up.”

All the fires were caused by campfires that were left unattended, the department says. (NWT Fire/Facebook)

Olsen said fires smolder in the ground’s “duff layer” — a layer of organic material like twigs, leaves and needles — all winter.

“It can be potentially quite dangerous,” said Olsen.

Fort Liard is about 40 kilometres north of the British Columbia border. Olsen said the area has a lot of spruce and aspen trees, as well as duff and moss, so fires can easily spread.

The department has been monitoring the dryness of the area for some time, said Olsen, especially given the recent wildfire activities in B.C.

“It is kind of an indication to us that the area around Fort Liard continues to be quite dry,” he said.

Olsen said wildfires in the N.W.T. are “fairly uncommon” in winter.

“It’s really uncommon to see three reported within a relatively short period of time.”

A local crew will likely extinguish the fires by Monday, said Olsen, noting that the chance of them becoming significant fires is “really low.”

The department is urging people who are making campfires for cooking and to stay warm to completely extinguish them before leaving.

“Yes, even in winter!” the Facebook post said.

With files from Mike Hugall

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Residents of Lower Post, Northern Canada clean up after wildfires, CBC News

Finland: Cities in Finland and Sweden among Europe’s fastest-warming, data shows, Yle News

Norway: Arctic Europe’s July records melted under extreme temperatures, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Forest fires are raging across the Barents region, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden to support forest industry following historic summer wildfires, Radio Sweden

United States: Most of Alaska’s active wildfires pose no threat, authorities say, Alaska Public Media

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