Wildfire crew in Beaufort Delta

Wildfire operations

Managing wildfire

Detecting fire

Detecting fires is a full-time job – and a crucial step to taking action fast and keeping folks safe.   This is done through:

  • Reports to 1-877-NWT-FIRE by the public
  • Air and ground patrols with trained observers
  • Computer intelligence and modelling used to:
    • Get up-to-date weather information
    • Find lightning strike locations
    • Predict the probability of lightning strikes and locations
    • Predict how a particular wildfire may spread and at what rate
    • Measure the amount of moisture in forest fuels, on the forest floor and in the deep soil

Assessing fire

Every wildfire discovered or reported in the Northwest Territories is assessed by wildfire professionals.

They are assessed for:

  • Fire size
  • Fire behaviour and growth potential
  • Fire location
  • Options for response and resource requirements
  • Values-at-risk (cabins, communities, infrastructure, wildlife habitats, areas of cultural significance)

Wildfire leaders consider some key things when deciding when and how to fight fires. 

  • Threats to human life and communities
  • Threats to critical infrastructure (i.e. roads, power stations, pipelines)
  • Threats to property owner and land-user assets (i.e. cabins, camps, lodges)
  • Threats to ecological values (i.e. wildlife habitat)
  • Threats to social values (i.e. protected areas, burial grounds)
  • The important natural role of wildfires in the NWT’s forest

The first consideration is always human life. Wildfire fighters will always protect human life so long as it is possible and safe.

All other considerations will be weighed against the cost of fighting wildfires over the long-term and the relative economic, environmental, and social impacts of a fire running its course.  

Responding to fire

Once a fire is assessed, there are few key responses wildfire leaders may recommend.

  • Monitoring: monitoring the fire to make sure it does not affect communities, cabins, infrastructure, or other environmental and social values later in the season.
  • Limited action: taking a specific action on only a portion of a fire to protect communities, cabins, infrastructure, or other environmental and social values.   At times a fire may not be actioned directly and fire crews will only do value protection on specific sites.
  • Delayed Action: action taken if a wildfire grows to a specific size to limit the impact on a value.
  • Full suppression: fighting a fire to try and bring it under control or put it out.

Throughout the response, the fire will be re-assessed to determine its “stage of control” – the progress which has been made to contain or put out the wildfire.

These stages of control are:

  • Out of control: Describes a wildfire that is not responding (or only responding on a limited basis) to suppression action, such that the perimeter spread is not being contained.
  • Being held: Indicates that (with the resources currently committed to the fire) sufficient suppression action has been taken that the fire is not likely to spread beyond existing or predetermined boundaries under the prevailing and forecasted conditions.
  • Under control: The fire has received sufficient suppression action to ensure no further spread of the fire.
  • Out: the fire has been extinguished

For more information on wildfire management terms and how fires are fought:

Recognizing the natural role of wildfire

Wildfire is a natural force that is necessary for the health of the territory’s environment. They eliminate extra fuel that can cause more extreme fires which could threaten communities, return nutrients to the soil, and promotes regrowth and regeneration.

This is in-part why we don’t fight all wildfires – to protect the natural benefits of wildfire.

Local knowledge and community engagement

Good wildfire fighting and prevention draws upon Indigenous and local knowledge.

Wildfire professionals maintain strong relationships with Indigenous governments and organizations and community leadership to ensure local needs and knowledge are part of all decisions made on wildfire.

Your role

Managing wildfire risk is everyone’s responsibility – even yours. Here’s how you can help.