Mr. Speaker, it isn’t very often we can say that weather forecasters were spot-on with their projections, however this fire season it seems they got it right.
The fire season started very early. In fact, it may be one of the earliest on record. It seemed like the 2014 fire season just spilled over into 2015. There were several hold-over fires from the 2014 season—fires that burned deep, over the winter. By early June, the numbers and frequency of fire occurrences was record setting. The effect of extended drought was really evident through the South Slave, Dehcho and North Slave regions. Fire behaviour on most of the fires was explosive. Fire crews reported having issues finding water sources to run their power pumps.
Large fires began to show up on the landscape in the Dehcho and South Slave regions. Several communities were impacted, including Trout Lake, Jean Marie River, Fort Simpson, Hay River, Enterprise, Fort Providence and the Hay River Corridor.
Large numbers of heavy equipment were hired to help deal with the fire situation. Finding additional wildland fire resources to help stem the tide of these fires became a serious challenge as western Canada and the United States, suffering under the same drought as the Northwest Territories, began to take up any available resources in the country. A National Critical Resource Protocol was established to divide available resources according to need, the protection of human life being the priority. As you are no doubt aware, Saskatchewan was indeed the most affected province in the country, requiring the most help with several communities evacuated. Despite conditions here, the NWT was still able to render some assistance, along with Ontario and the Maritimes.
Fortunately, as meteorologists predicted, conditions changed from mid to late-July and we began to get some substantial rain. This, of course, helped firefighters get the upper hand and establish control. In early August, the North Slave joined in the fray as a fire near Hearne Lake began to grow beyond the control lines of firefighters and into the Reid Lake area. Cottagers were evacuated and firefighters from other parts of the NWT and Alberta moved in to help the region deal with this fire. Again by mid-August, wetter conditions moved in and curtailed the fire. Priority areas of the fire were brought under control and extinguished.
For those statistical analysts, there were 241 fires in the NWT, and 622 thousand hectares of land consumed by fires, which is above average, however things could have been a lot worse. Last year, as you recall, the NWT had 378 fires which consumed 3.4 million hectares, and the Government of the Northwest Territories spent $55 million on wildfire suppression. To date, expenditures for 2015 are close to $32 million. However we can say, with glad hearts, that no lives were lost and very few values-at-risk were affected—which is, of course, our ultimate goal.
Forecasters are already looking at large-scale global weather models and into forecasts for next year. Forecasters are predicting an El Nino Winter, warm with limited precipitation which, depending on the actual outcome, may affect our water levels for next season. It seems that the drought through the NWT will continue.
As such, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, or ENR, will continue to be proactive and ready itself for the next fire season. A debrief of this year’s lesson learned will take place in the fall and public meetings will take place over the winter.
The rollout of the new Air Tractor 802 Fire Bosses continues. The first two planes have been built and are awaiting avionics and floats. The entire squadron of eight aircraft will be ready by May 2017, and will be integrated into the Department fleet over the 2017/2018 fire season. New aviation and personnel contracts will be negotiated over the winter.
Mr. Speaker, I cannot stress enough the value of the FireSmart Program. Everyone has a responsibility to help 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. It was noted over the past month,
Mr. Speaker, that some of the cottages and cabins on the Ingraham Trail were Fire-Smarted. This made firefighters’ jobs of protecting these values that much easier.
Fire-Smarting homes, cabins and communities allow firefighters to concentrate on fighting fires, and is in these difficult years, a simple solution to a very complex problem. Information on FireSmart is available from local ENR offices and local community governments.
There is still much to do before the next fire season. ENR will clean up and put away the gear from this past summer and prepare for the next. Firefighting can be a dirty, laborious, and underappreciated job. Our hats are off, Mr. Speaker, to the firefighters who return every summer to protect our communities; young women and men from the North and across the country who should be applauded for their efforts.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.