NWT experiences lower than usual wildfire season in 2020

News Releases

Yellowknife — October 6, 2020

A below-average fire season saw 70 wildfires burn 21,139 hectares across the Northwest Territories (NWT) in 2020—less than half as many fires as last year, and only a fifth of the area burned in 2019.

Wet weather limited the number of fires and the area burned, with most regions of the NWT experiencing more rain than forecasted. The only exceptions were the Beaufort-Delta and the North Slave regions, which experienced higher than average fire risk throughout the fire season.

The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) made several adjustments to its fire operations in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Training and fitness testing were modified to limit group sizes and potential exposure, an additional air tanker group and more fire fighters were hired, an ignition task team was established and detection efforts were increased.

While fire is a natural and important part of the ecosystem, keeping fires small was a priority this year. Due to the risk of COVID-19, it was critical to avoid large-scale suppression efforts that could require the GNWT call on southern firefighters for support or require the evacuation of small communities. We focused on providing an early and aggressive response to all wildfires. As a result, nearly two thirds of all fires were fought this year—twice as many as usual.

The GNWT would like to acknowledge the extra efforts of wildfire personnel during COVID-19 to protect the health and safety of our fire crews and communities. Wildfire staff continue to monitor the fire environment and have already begun planning and preparations for the 2021 wildfire season.



“This year’s wildfire season came with a number of unique challenges. Staff worked very hard to prepare for what I’m almost certain was our first fire season in the middle of a global pandemic. Luckily, our wet summer kept the number of fires low, allowing our crews to focus on early detection and response. Thank you to everyone who helped to keep our territory safe this year.”

- Shane Thompson, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources


Quick facts


NWT wildfires



10-yr. average


Total number of fires




Total area burned (ha)





  • Wildfires are a natural part of Northwest Territories ecosystems. Without fire, our forests would not be able to fully regenerate and fuel would build up on the landscape, making future fires more severe and harder to control.
  • The decision to fight a wildfire or to leave it to burn out naturally may depend on the location of the fire, availability of resources, fire behaviour and the potential to affect values at risk,
  • The GNWT actioned 58 per cent of all wildfires in 2020, compared to 29 per cent normally actioned.
  • More than 129 individuals were trained as firefighters across all five regions in 2020 (41 as extra fire fighters).
  • Almost all firefighting services were provided by northern businesses (22 fire crews were provided by 10 Indigenous companies and seven long-term aviation contracts were held by four northern companies).

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For media inquiries, please contact:

Public Affairs and Communications

Environment and Natural Resources

Government of the Northwest Territories