In the N.W.T., dry, warm weather is causing the fire season to persist unusually long

An aerial view of a wildfire burning about 38 kilometres from Fort Smith, N.W.T., pictured on Aug.18. (Department of Environment and Natural Resources)

The Northwest Territories is facing fire dangers rarely seen this time of year, prompting the territory’s wildfire information officer to remind residents to not leave any outdoor fire unattended or incompletely extinguished.

In the Dehcho region, he said there hadn’t been any human-caused fires until mid-September and now, there are four.

“Every human-caused fire is preventable,” Mike Westwick told CBC’s Lawrence Nayally, host of The Trail’s End on Wednesday. “We do call on people particularly right now as we’re seeing an unusually long season, to be especially careful when they’re using fire out on the land.”

Recently, unseasonably dry conditions and high winds were responsible for a cabin burning down in a wildfire near Fort Smith, N.W.T.

Officials with the fire division said the high winds caused the fire to “flare up and take a significant run on the south flank.”

The burned cabin was discovered on Monday during a reconnaissance flight. The owner has been notified. The wildfire, which first sparked about 40 kilometres from the community earlier this summer, is still active and is being monitored by fire crews.

Westwick said the territory remains under high to extreme fire danger ratings in some areas. That includes the Dehcho and South Slave regions.

“We … discourage folks from having any fire on the land, unless it is completely necessary for food or warmth,” Westwick said.

He said right now, there are no communities at risk and there’s no infrastructure under immediate threat.

Officials are calling the fire activity “extraordinary for this time of year.”

In a news release Tuesday, the territory said it’s facing down one of the longest periods of continuous wildfire activity in decades — with drier forests and persistently elevated temperatures.

The N.W.T. has exceeded its 10-year average of total fires burned, and it’s exceeded its five-year average for hectares burned.

Westwick said it’s not uncommon to have fires that smoulder through October until the snow falls.

“But it is quite abnormal for us to be seeing fires that are flaring back up and having significant activity, which is kind of what we’ve seen over the past week or so here with a lot of those heavy winds,” he said.

There are now 82 active fires in the Northwest Territories, with just over 536,000 hectors affected.

Two new fires ignited in the past two days. Both are in the Dehcho region and both are human-caused, “which is quite unfortunate,” Westwick said.

“What we’re expecting is some very challenging conditions remaining. And we really need folks’ help as we face down those conditions,” he said.

“We really can’t afford any more human-caused fires, as we deal with this particularly long fire season.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Arctic Ocean acidifying up to four times faster than any other sea on Earth, The Canadian Press

Finland: Can climate adaptation be culturally sustainable in the Arctic?, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Extreme rain over Svalbard is caused by less sea-ice, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russian climate report stresses adaptation but no reduction in fossil fuel extraction, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Kebnekaise’s southern peak has not shrunk any further this year, Radio Sweden

United States: Bering Sea region focus of recent papers on climate risk to northern communities, Eye on the Arctic

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