Wildfire crew in Beaufort Delta

Wildfire operations

Air Operations


Airtankers, fixed wing aircraft and helicopters play an important role in wildfire management in the NWT.

Airtankers are fixed-wing aircraft specially-designed for firefighting. Helicopters are extremely versatile – and are very important for getting to remote areas.

They are used for four main functions in wildfire management.

Reducing wildfire intensity

Airtankers are used for initial attack, in which the objective is to keep a wildfire from spreading until ground forces are brought in to extinguish it.

Helicopters are often used for direct and indirect fire suppression.

Both types of aircraft are able to drop, water, and other agents that can reduce or inhibit combustion. These are called “retardants” because they slow (or retard) a flame front’s rate of spread.

Detecting wildfires

Both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft are used to do patrols around the Northwest Territories during wildfire season. Wildfire staff will look around the landscape from above and try to find smoke or fire. If they are found, they will be investigated further.

Assessing wildfires

Helicopters and bird dog aircraft are both used to provide a bird’s eye view for wildfire professionals as they assess a fire once it is detected, determine the best way to take action, and serve as eyes from above to keep firefighters on-the-ground safer.  

Transporting equipment and staff

Helicopters and fixed wing aircraft are commonly used to transport personnel and equipment to and from forest fires.


The Northwest Territories has air tanker bases, located at the Fort Smith, Hay River, Yellowknife, Fort Simpson, Norman Wells, and Inuvik airports.

These bases allow aircraft to travel across the territory quickly to detect, assess, and respond to wildfires.

Learn more about air operations