More than half of NWT wildfires so far this season caused by humans: officials

Officials in the Northwest Territories say more than half of the bushfires in the territory this year were set by people.

A total of 15 wildfires have burned 161 square kilometers across the territory so far this season, eight of which are suspected to have been human-caused.

Wildlife information officer Mike Westwick said typically 8 to 20 percent of wildfires in the territory are caused by humans each season.

Nine fires are actively burning in the NWT, including an out-of-control wildfire about 32 square kilometers in size on the K’atl’odeeche First Nation that is believed to be caused by humans.

Some 3,500 people from the reserve and the nearby town of Hay River remain displaced after evacuation orders were issued on May 14.

The First Nation said 18 buildings have been damaged on the reserve, while no damage has been reported in Hay River.

“This type of incident can happen to any of us in our communities, which are susceptible to fires below the tree line,” Westwick said. “We are seeing firsthand the consequences of fires caused by human activity.”

The territory said nearly 14 kilometers of control lines were built through the forest over the past week to help prevent the fire from spreading to the southeast.

A local state of emergency is maintained in Hay River.

More than half of NWT wildfires so far this season caused by humans: officials. #NWT #Wildfires

Hay River Mayor Kandis Jameson said during an update Tuesday afternoon that they are relying on the advice of wildfire experts to determine when it will be safe for residents to return.

“We know everyone wants to come home. We know this has been extremely stressful on so many levels and we are doing everything we can to get him home as soon as it is safe,” he said. “We had a safe evacuation and we’re not going to risk bringing people back too soon.”

Residents of both the K’atl’odeeche First Nation and Hay River were forced to leave their homes last May due to historic flooding in the area. In October, the Northwest Territories government said it estimated the flooding caused more than $174 million in damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure in communities.

Jameson thanked residents of neighboring communities and Yellowknife Tuesday for reopening their doors and offering support to evacuees.

“We are lucky to live in a territory where community has expanded its meaning, where the whole territory supports each other and does whatever it takes when tragedy strikes,” he said.

Other fires currently burning in the NWT include a 12+ square mile lightning fire located approximately 60 miles west of Kakisa. The territory said the community is not currently at risk.

A fire caused by lightning of nearly 57 square kilometers is also burning approximately 50 kilometers south of Sambaa K’e. Crews withdrew due to the intensity and risk of the fire, but the wildfire continues to be monitored.

The fire danger forecast is high in many communities across the country.

“We’ve got a lot of season ahead of us, and we’re hoping that these hot, dry conditions that we’re seeing don’t go away anytime soon and we’re going to have a tough season. So we really need everyone’s help,” Westwick said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 23, 2023.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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