Robert C. McLeod: 2016 Wildland Fire Season

Mr. Speaker, from a statistical perspective, 2016 was a below average fire season. A total of 188 wildland fires were reported in the 2016 fire season, burning 229,000 hectares. As a comparison, there were 241 fires and 622,000 hectares burned in 2015. That is half the number of hectares burned in 2016 than in 2015, and 50 fewer fires.

Of the 188 fires this year, 16 fires are suspected person-caused.  The Department provided some type of action on 83 fires, or 44%. In addition, 292 Extra Fire Fighters were hired in the NWT for training or in support of wildland fire operations.

We had a slow start to the fire season with cooler weather conditions which allowed our Government to provide much needed fire personnel to help with the Fort McMurray fire and other fires in the northern part of Alberta.

As a Government, we are honoured to be able to provide assistance to other Canadian jurisdictions as many of them helped us in our time of need during the 2013, 2014 and 2015 wildland fire seasons and later on in the 2016 fire season.

While there was a slow start to the season in the NWT, there were several significant fires across the territory including the Snare Lake Fire, the Reid Lake Fire and Norman Wells Fire.

End of season procedures, including tanker base shut downs, fuel systems shut downs and field equipment retrieval is underway. A debrief of this year’s lessons learned will be undertaken and public meetings will take place over the winter.  At this point we have expended roughly $29,990,575.00 in pre-suppression and suppression costs.  There are a few outstanding reconciliations to be done in the regions before we have the total amount.  But we are much better off than in the previous two years.

Mr. Speaker, I cannot stress enough the value and importance of our FireSmart Program. It is everyone’s responsibility to FireSmart their home and cabin, and promote the FireSmart Program in their community. Property owners and communities should be using FireSmart tools to reduce their risk of loss from wildland fire.

The Department is leading an initiative to review and update community protection plans. Community wildland fire protection will be integrated into existing GNWT emergency management processes. This will ensure communities have a more complete understanding of their role in FireSmarting and what is required to ensure their community has mitigated the risks of a wildland fire. Information about the FireSmart Program and community protection plans is on the ENR website and at your local ENR office.

Forecasters are predicting an early, colder than normal winter with an average snowfall. It is our hope that this provides plenty of snow cover for the spring melt and increases our water levels.  It is important to note that while the 2016 fire season was relatively normal, there continue to be areas of extreme drought.  We will continue to be vigilant in working with all values at risk to reduce the risk and in preparing for a potentially extreme fire response. Whether we receive plenty of precipitation or not, ENR will continue to be proactive and prepare itself for the next fire season.

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all our fire personnel, from the fire crews out on the fire line, to our radio operators, logistics, planning, air attack officers, and everyone who worked hard all summer to protect our residents and communities.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.