You can use your smart phone to browse stories in the comfort of your hand. Simply browse this site on your smart phone.

    Using an RSS Reader you can access most recent stories and other feeds posted on this network.

    SNetwork Recent Stories

Jay Macdonald: 2024 Wildfire Season

by ahnationtalk on June 7, 20247 Views

June 7, 2024

Mr. Speaker, the 2023 wildfire season was the most challenging ever experienced in the Northwest Territories, and the largest and most impactful in Canada. Driven by severe drought conditions, record-breaking temperatures and periods of extreme wind conditions, both the fire behaviour and fire environment were unlike anything our most experienced firefighters have seen before.

To date, forecasts of another challenging fire season in 2024 have been accurate, with a very early start to the season and a number of significant fires near communities and highways in the Dehcho and South Slave regions. The NWT is experiencing its third consecutive year of severe drought, which is fueling this fire risk. We only need to look at our lakes and rivers to see how this drought is impacting the environment. Until significant rain is experienced, the job firefighters face in trying to contain wildfires will remain very difficult.

Mr. Speaker, despite these challenges, the Department of Environment and Climate Change has worked hard over the past winter to be ready for the 2024 wildfire season. Over the past several months, meetings with local community and Indigenous governments occurred in all forested communities in the NWT to discuss the 2023 wildfire season, Community Wildfire Protection Plans and local planning for the 2024 season. We assisted the NWT Association of Communities in their successful application for federal funding to support community-led wildfire prevention and mitigation work, including FireSmart initiatives. Communication and notification processes for wildfire events have been strengthened in collaboration with the departments of Municipal and Community Affairs and Executive and Indigenous Affairs, resulting in an enhanced approach to provide direct and timely information to Indigenous governments about fires that have the potential to affect their communities.

Training has also been top of mind over the past several months. Additional fire crews and aircraft were added to our normal complement and brought on much earlier than normal to complete their annual training and be ready for an early start to the season. Home Ignition Zone Training was offered to Environment and Climate Change staff and local fire departments. Furthermore, to help address fires at the wildland-urban interface, cross-training is underway for local fire departments, with some events recently held in May.

A new wildfire prevention and mitigation unit has been established, with a number of wildfire prevention activities already conducted across the NWT. Information guides were developed to provide people with detailed advice on best practices and procedures to FireSmart their property, and information events were held with communities, neighborhood groups, schools and other parties to increase public awareness. New structural protection trailers with sprinklers, pumps and hoses are being deployed to each region, which will increase the number of homes and cabins that can be protected should the need arise. As soon as the snow was gone, a specialized thermal detection aircraft was used to scan for hotspots near communities from last year’s fires.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say that these preparations were very helpful as we faced an early start to the 2024 wildfire season. The early season scanning for hotspots found eight fires that burned through the winter, and crews were brought on early to address them. All but two of the fires were extinguished right away, however extreme drought conditions and strong winds made it very difficult to contain two of the fires.

One of these fires posed a threat to Fort Liard for a number of weeks, but the hard work and commitment of our firefighters resulted in containing the fire in the end and avoiding the need for an evacuation, like what happened in nearby Fort Nelson. Environment and Climate Change put fire restrictions in place in the Dehcho and South Slave regions in early May based on the wildfire forecasts, current wildfire environment and potential threat to communities.  These restrictions are an important tool to help prevent human-caused fires and allow firefighters to focus on the fires they are dealing with and reduce the worry about new fires starting close to communities.

Mr. Speaker, I know there is a lot of interest in seeing the 2023 Wildfire Response Review. A final report is close to being released publicly, and it will include recommendations and suggestions for improvement. This report will also include a What We Heard report, which reflects the input of GNWT operational staff, local community and Indigenous governments, as well as members of the public who were involved in last year’s fire response. The review covered all of the 2023 wildfire season, but also included a deep dive on the wildfires that impacted Enterprise, Hay River and Kátł’odeeche First Nation, as well as the fires that threatened Behchokǫ̀ and Yellowknife. I look forward to using this review to further  enhance our wildfire management program, including during the 2024 season.

Looking ahead, I am also happy to announce that Environment and Climate Change has developed its own Wildfire Prevention and Resilience Strategy, which will complement a new national wildfire prevention and mitigation strategy. The NWT’s Strategy will guide a number of targeted new activities to protect our communities, including establishing territorial and regional FireSmart Committees, delivering cross-training for wildfire and structural firefighters, expanding the prescribed fire program to reduce risk at community and landscape levels and supporting Indigenous-led cultural burning initiatives to return traditional fire to the landscape. The strategy will also include enhanced public education and communication efforts, increased wildfire emergency planning and improved legislation through regulation development with the new Forest Act.

The current drought, warm temperatures and elevated fire risk are expected to continue throughout much of the summer, and everyone needs to do their part to prevent human-caused fires. We need to work together to help protect NWT residents, communities, critical infrastructure, and values. We ask that people only use fire on the land if needed for cooking or heat. If you need to make a fire, make sure it is as small as possible and ensure that you have the tools needed to contain it and put it out.

Mr. Speaker, as we continue to respond to another challenging wildfire season, I would like to thank all of people, communities and organizations that have stepped up to do what they can to help prevent or mitigate the risk of wildfire. I also want to extend my heart-felt thanks to our amazing fire crews and wildfire management teams who are working tirelessly to keep us all safe.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.


Send To Friend Email Print Story

Comments are closed.

NationTalk Partners & Sponsors Learn More