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Forest fire season below average
Rain and high water limited fires to 27 in Deh Cho

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, September 15, 2011

This year's forest fire season in the Deh Cho was far busier than last year's but still slightly quieter than average, according to officials with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

NNSL photo/graphic

Covering 60 hectares, fire 26 was the largest forest fire fought this summer in the Deh Cho. The fire, which was close to McGill Lake, was also near a number of structures including cabins, a fibre optic line, a NorthwesTel site and Enbridge Pipeline Inc.'s Mackenzie pump station. - photo courtesy of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources

As of Sept. 12 there have been 27 fires in the Deh Cho covering 10,529 hectares. Last year the region had seven fires, a record low.

In the last decade the region has averaged 35 fires a year. Prior to the late 1990s the Deh Cho averaged 70 fires a year, said Daniel Allaire, a forest officer with the department.

"Overall it was busier than last year, that's for sure," he said.

Based on conditions early in the season in Alberta and the North and South Slave, Allaire said he was expecting the Deh Cho to have more fires than it did. Rain and a high water table, however, kept the Deh Cho wetter than the other regions.

Lightning was said to be the cause of all the fires in the Deh Cho this season.

There were lots of lightning strikes on some days but because the forests were already damp and the lightning was normally accompanied by a rainstorm it limited the number of fires that started, said Allaire. If the region was drier the number of fires could have doubled or tripled, he said.

No major forest fires came close to communities this summer and no structures, such as cabins, were burned The largest fire was east of Wrigley in late June and early July. The fire grew quickly in its first few days but then rain dampened it, said Allaire.

Most of the fires this season were just monitored. Fire 26, which covered 60 hectares close to McGill Lake, was the largest fire to be fought. There were lots of structures near the fire that were at risk, said Allaire, including cabins, a fiber optic line, a NorthwesTel site and Enbridge Pipeline Inc.'s Mackenzie pump station.

Mark Gerlock, Enbridge's area supervisor, credited Allaire for keeping the company well informed about the fire and actions that were taken to fight it.

Gerlock said he received voicemails three times a day providing updates about the situation. The way the fire was fought was well orchestrated, he said.

Although fire crews in the region did work on some fires in the Deh Cho, they saw more action while on export, said Allaire. Within the territory, crews from the Deh Cho were sent to the North and South Slave and Inuvik.

Two crews, Deh Cho 1 from Fort Simpson and Deh Cho 6 from Fort Liard, along with Allaire and Kelly Pennycook, were deployed to Alberta north of Fort McMurray in late May. Deh Cho 2 from Fort Simpson was shipped to Ontario for more than two weeks in August.

Within the next few years Allaire expects that crews will see a lot of action in the Deh Cho because forest fire trends seem to follow a cyclical pattern.

"Every year I'm expecting it will be a busy year," he said.

The season in 1998 marked the Deh Cho's last busy year with 101 fires including one new fire every day over a five-and-a-half-week period. Since then, 2005, which recorded 74 fires, has been the only above average fire season.

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