J. Michael Miltenberger: 2015 Fire Season Forecast

Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Mr. Speaker, I do not wish to be the bearer of bad weather reports but as Mother Nature may have it, and based on the reports from our meteorologist, we will once again experience drought over the summer of 2015.

The prediction for this fire season is for another year of hot, dry weather. The downturn in weather for the next two days is unlikely to make much difference. It will be getting warmer and drier in all regions starting on Wednesday.

This is the first time since 1998 that an El Niño winter is followed by an El Niño summer. In general, El Nino is known to produce warmer and drier weather.

The Northwest Territories has been under the effect of a blocking ridge through the month of May. All regions have been snow-free since mid-May, except for some areas in the Inuvik regions. This is very early.

All regions witnessed record-breaking temperatures and very little to no precipitation through the month of May.

Most of our long-term seasonal forecast models indicate a high probability that these drought conditions will continue through August over at least portions of the southern Northwest Territories.

Indeed, five of seven weather models show very dry conditions across either all, or portions of, the Deh Cho, North Slave and South Slave.

These conditions will likely result in extreme fire behaviour and intense wildland fires, which can be difficult for crews to extinguish.

Everyone has a responsibility to prevent and protect their homes, cabins and communities from the risk of wildland fires. Property owners and communities should be using FireSmart tools to reduce their risk of loss from wildland fire.

FireSmart homes, cabins and neighbourhoods allow firefighters to concentrate on fighting the wildland fire, which ultimately protects more homes and lives. Information on FireSmart is available from local Environment and Natural Resources offices and local community governments.

As of today, 51 fires have been reported in the Northwest Territories affecting 69,320 hectares. Thirteen of those fires are out. Four were person-caused. This time last year, six fires had been reported with 31.5 hectares affected.

Environment and Natural Resources brought on its human and aviation resources early to deal with fire starts. Most crews had an early start in the southern regions.

Helicopter and air tankers have already been brought on to ensure wildland fires threatening communities or other values at risk are dealt with swiftly and aggressively. Infrared scanning of critical areas is being done to ensure these fires are out and there are no holdover fire surprises.

As in previous years, we will continue to provide regular updates about wildfires both on our website and Facebook page.

Mr. Speaker, last summer was record breaking. There were 385 fires, 3.4 million hectares of forest land was affected by fire and several communities were threatened. The overall cost was over $56 million.

Environment and Natural Resources will be acting upon lessons learned from the 2014 fire season.

Work on several of the recommendations of the 2014 Northwest Territories Fire Season Review Report, which has been shared with Members of the Legislative Assembly, has begun. Most of the work will be completed this summer or through the next year.

Areas recommended for improvement included public engagement, safety, human resources, fire management strategy and policy, operations, and procurement and financial resources.

Despite the unprecedented challenges Environment and Natural Resources faced last summer in managing the wildland fires, there were no serious injuries or fatalities to firefighters, residents or visitors.

Environment and Natural Resources continues to actively monitor the fire environment and has plans to assess and respond to new wildfire starts.

Mr. Speaker, I know we all hope Mother Nature will cooperate this summer by providing much-needed precipitation in regular intervals.
In the meantime, Environment and Natural Resources will continue to work with other departments and communities to improve the GNWT’s response to emergencies.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.