Record spring temps hint at hellish summer for NWT | Polarjournal
Last July, a combination of lightning, dry weather and unusual heat fuelled hundreds of wildland fires in northern Canada. According to federal authorities, 136 fires were burning in the Yukon and 65 in NWT (pictured above) on 6 July, the date this image was taken (Photo: Nasa)

NWT is hot. With high temperatures and forest fires already breaking out, the spring and summer ahead promise to be hellish across Canada’s north

In the first week of May, temperatures in Canada’s Northwest Territories were 8 to 20°C above seasonal normals. Hay River, located south of Great Slave Lake and Yellowknife, experienced record temperatures of 30°C last week. The high temperatures are believed to be related to a stagnant high-altitude air circulation system. Although temperatures have come down this week, they are still high for the season.

According to territorial authorities, one fire is still active in the South Slave area, affecting 29 hectares of land. Another fire, located further north-east, has been extinguished. The fires were reported by residents of Fort Smith, (pop 2,500) in the south-eastern part of the territory, and were probably caused by a fire that escaped after a burn.

Map of fires that have already affected NWT. The situation promises to worsen in the coming months, raising fears of a wave of fires like the one that hit the region last year (Map: Government of the Northwest Territories)

A situation that promises to get worse
But it looks like it’s only going to get worse. Current conditions suggest a high risk of fire in the coming months. The warm, dry spring that is currently affecting the region has caused the snow to melt earlier than usual, and plants are are already starting to grow. “The weather forecast seems to be consistent … that for most of the NWT we’re gonna see hot dry conditions throughout June, July and into August,” Richard Olsen, who manages fire operations for the NWT department of Environment and Climate Change, told the CBC, a broadcaster.

The risk of fire is particularly high in the Sahtu, Dehcho and South Slave regions. These same regions were hard hit last year by major forest fires that burned more than 500,000 hectares in NWT. More than 200 fires broke out, fuelled by hot, dry weather conditions and high winds. The fires started in May and lasted until October.

A map showing the location and number of forest fires that affected NWT last year (Photo: Department of Environment and Natural Resources)

Forest fires are a seasonal threat in the NWT, destroying hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest and putting local communities at risk.

Western Canada has been particularly affected by major forest fires in recent years. This is currently the case for the neighbouring provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Hundreds of fires have already started in Alberta; at the time of writing, 25 fires are still out of control, leading provincial authorities to declare a state of emergency. More than 30,000 people have been evacuated and 400,000 hectares have already burned.

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

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